BBC preps Attenborough trio for wildlife slate

Sir David Attenborough (pictured) hosts three documentaries - one on dinosaurs, two on birds - which form part of the UK pubcaster's ambitious slate of natural history programming.
October 17, 2014

UK pubcaster the BBC has commissioned multiple natural history projects through 2018, including a trio of projects featuring Sir David Attenborough.

After launching the international edition of BBC Earth on last week, the UK edition has now debuted on

BBC1 projects include Attenborough’s hour-long Waking Giants, the NHU/Discovery coproduction Shark, the 2 x 60-minute Pets Wild at Heart; and 3 x 60-minute series Invisible Nature: Flight, which uses cutting edge technology to unlock the mystery of flight.

Attenborough also contributes two titles to the BBC2 slate: the NHU-produced Attenborough’s Paradise Birds and Natural World: Attenborough’s Big Birds, a look at flightless fowl, which is coproduced by Mike Birkhead Associates, Thirteen and WNET.

Additional BBC2 titles, commissioned by channel controller Kim Shillinglaw and acting head of commissioning for science and natural history Tom McDonald, include Ireland – The Wild Edge of the World, a 2 x 60-minute special hosted by Emmy Award-winning cameraman Colin Stafford Johnson; Natural World: Africa’s Fishing Leopards, and the NHU-produced, 3 x 60-minute The Wild West.

On BBC1, Waking Giants will profile the discovery of 200 dinosaur bones from seven creatures that have been unearthed from the South American desert, as Attenborough attempts to build a skeleton of what he believes is the world’s largest dinosaur. Vanessa Berkowitz serves as executive producer.

The NHU/Discovery coproduction Shark offers two 60-minute docs examining the deadly mammal filmed in its natural habitat, and is further supplemented by a 60-minute documentary featuring the work of leading shark scientists as they study this endangered species. The exec producer is Mike Gunton.

Elsewhere, John Downer Productions teams up with PBS and WNET for Pets Wild at Heart, a 2 x 60-minute set focusing in on the stories of household pets. Using night vision cameras, thermal imaging, Schlerien photography and moving X-rays – as well as animals like rabbits, cats and dogs being fitted with their own mini-cams – Pets Wild at Heart promises to offer a previously unseen perspective as the animals interact with their human owners and other animals.

Meanwhile, Invisible Nature: Flight, produced by the NHU with Berlowitz on board as exec producer, uses a super hi-speed camera to capture a male hummingbird exceeding the G-force of a space shuttle as part of his mating ritual, while an underwater rig captures the moment a flying fish transforms its fins into wings.

Future BBC1 considerations include the 5 x 60-minute NHU and BBC America coproduction Dynasty and the 5 x 60-minute Animals Like Us – Super Spy, which is coproduced by John Downer Productions and PBS.

Both series are expected to be delivered in 2018: Dynasty tracks five animals – a lion, an African hunting dog, a chimpanzee, a tiger and an Emperor penguin – as each species tries to produce its next generation, and is being shot at 4k and 5k in Ultra HD, under the supervision of executive producer Mike Gunton.

With John Downer serving as exec producer, Animals Like Us – Super Spy features lifelike camera-equipped robots The Spy Creatures that unobtrusively capture animals demonstrating human-like behavior in their own right.

All BBC1 programs were commissioned by channel controller Charlotte Moore and McDonald.

On BBC2, Attenborough’s Paradise Birds - produced by Miles Barton with Gunton as executive producer – finds Attenborough tracking several species of Birds of Paradise over the jungles of New Guinea and Indonesia, and visiting royalty in Qatar, which hosts the largest private collections of these birds, as he realizes “a film I have wanted to make for 40 years.”

Produced by Mike Birkhead Associates, Thirteen and WNET, Attenborough’s second BBC2 offering, Natural World: Attenborough’s Big Birds, follows a pair of breeding ostriches struggling to survive in Africa’s Kalahari Desert. Mike Birkhead serves as executive producer and Roger Webb is series editor.

BBC2 and BBC Northern Ireland have completed Ireland – The Wild Edge of the World, a coproduction between Crossing The Line Productions/TG4/ORF/PBS/NDR/France TV and Media & Section 481 Irish Gov’t Tax Incentive that finds Crossing The Line Films’ Craig Hunter, Justin Binding and John Murray in executive production roles.

Coproduced by Icon Films in association with NHFU Botswana and National Geographic Wild, Natural World: Africa’s Fishing Leopards documents the two-year journey by cameraman Brad Bestelink in chronicling the lives of a family of leopards, capturing the big cats’ art of survival and their rarely filmed ability to fish. Harry Marshall is exec producer and Roger Webb serves as series editor.

A NHU production, the 3 x 60-minute The Wild West captures the memorable landscapes of Death Valley, The Grand Canyon, giant redwood forests and amazing coastlines using new camera techniques, including 360-degree, motion-controlled time lapse photography and multi-level aerial shots. The 800-mile long Baja Peninsula is also featured in the series of specials, which explains how these landscapes were formed.

Joining the hive of programming activity is BBC Earth, which will feature news and features on natural phenomena, and a focus on British wildlife for its UK website. A specially curated interactive feature – Your Life on Earth – enables individuals to enter their date of birth, height and gender to reveal how the world has changed around them since their birth. The feature, filled with more than 50 modules of content, can be shared over social media on Facebook, Google and Twitter.

Air dates for the programming have yet to be set.

BBC director general Tony Hall said the slate represents the broadcaster’s “most ambitious commitment” to natural history across television and online. “No one does natural history like the BBC,” he added. “We’ve got the best back catalog in the world and an exciting future ahead of us.”


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