Detroit Public Television and WVIZ/PBS ideastream® are returning to cover this year’s Great Lakes Week conferences, offering widespread public access to important discussions around the future of the Great Lakes, the United States’ largest source of fresh water. In addition to the regular daily programming listed below, there will also be nightly summaries of the day’s events at 6:30 pm ET from September 11-13.
Every year on April 22, people across the world celebrate Earth Day. On Nature, the award-winning series produced by THIRTEEN and now in its 30th season, every day is Earth Day. Each week, the series brings the beauty and endless wonders of our planet to viewers, capturing the world’s ecosystems and their varied inhabitants in intimate detail.
Series Producer Bill Murphy spoke with THIRTEEN about the dedication and detail that go into the creation of television’s premier natural history series.
This interview was originally conducted and condensed for the April 2012 THIRTEEN Program Guide.
Nature is one of the most-watched primetime series on public television. Why does the series continue to attract so many viewers and filmmakers?
Bill Murphy: I think it’s because we’re committed to finding the most interesting stories in our genre, spending the appropriate time researching and developing films before we go into production, and working with the best filmmakers in the natural history business. And, of course, we couldn’t do it without the loyal support of THIRTEEN and its viewers.
Filmmakers are always telling me how much they love working with THIRTEEN and the Nature team because we know what we’re doing and they trust our guidance and support. I like to think that’s true, but I also know the best filmmakers in this business are very attracted to the fact that we can tell out our stories without commercial interruption. That’s a real luxury in today’s media landscape.
How do you find story ideas, and what qualities do you look for when considering submissions?
BM: There are many paths to finding story ideas that work for Nature. Ideas are pitched to us by both domestic and international independent producers, as well as major broadcast commissioners like the BBC and National Geographic. Some of the things we think about when evaluating proposals are: Is this story a right fit for Nature? How strong is the story and will it hold our audience’s attention? Does the producer have the talent, access, and experience to make the film in question? Although Nature is known for its story-driven classic blue chip natural history films and stunning cinematography work, such as Ocean Giants — which is scheduled for rebroadcast three consecutive Wednesdays beginning March 28 — we also feel it’s important to address some of the key topical conservation issue-oriented stories as we did in Salmon: Running the Gauntlet, which looks at the collapsing Pacific salmon populations and the ongoing debate on how to save this endangered species.
We’re also attracted to stories that require “special access” and give our viewers an inside look at an environmental situation that may otherwise be off-limits. One of Nature’s filmmaking teams took great risks to produce Braving Iraq, the story of one man’s extraordinary efforts to restore both animals and people in the Mesopotamian Marshes in Iraq destroyed by Saddam Hussein in the early 1990’s. And Radioactive Wolves examines the health of wildlife populations in Chernobyl’s exclusion zone, the area around the reactor that remains too dangerously radioactive for human habitation 25 years after the meltdown of the nuclear power plant. You can catch a special encore presentation of this film Wednesday, April 25.
Watch a preview of Ocean Giants:
You work closely with wildlife filmmakers who have a wide range of experience and narrative styles. What does your work with them involve, and what do you find most rewarding about these collaborations?
BM: I have a great job! I get to work closely with some of the most passionate and dedicated people in the filmmaking business who, in spite of long grueling days working in some of the most inhospitable environments, all seem to really love what they do for a living and are genuinely grateful that we’re providing them with the opportunity to make films for Nature’s loyal audience. Every film requires a different level of attention, but in general my job involves working with my colleagues on the development of stories and shaping our films editorially, both in the field and during post production. I’m also responsible for pitching story ideas to potential international co-production partners in order to raise funds to help us finance our big projects, and I act as the point person on the Nature team for producers and co-production partners on all production-related questions and concerns. I also negotiate all the production and co-production deals.
Do you have a favorite personal memory from your 15 years of working on Nature?
BM: One of my favorite memories was spending time in Alaska during the Winter of 1999 filming one of my favorite Nature programs, Sled Dogs: An Alaskan Epic. It was an extremely cold winter with evening temperatures averaging 50 degrees below zero as we followed several sled dog teams participating in the Iditarod race from Anchorage to Nome. Nature was still shooting on super 16mm film at that time and it was so cold the film was snapping in half as we tried to load it into the cameras. Our production team slept mostly in tents and, when lucky, cabins as we traveled across the beautiful state of Alaska using planes, helicopters and snow mobiles. The film crew was fantastic and somehow found a way to persevere all of the weather and logistical challenges and still make a beautiful film.
Is there a program you’re particularly excited about in the 30th anniversary season or beyond?
BM: One of my favorite programs that premiered during Nature’s 30th season is My Life as a Turkey, the true story of writer, naturalist, and “turkey mom” Joe Hutto. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend streaming it from Thirteen.org. It’s must-see TV. I’m also very excited about our pipeline of films in production for our 31st season, so stay tuned!
Nature has been awarded a Grand Teton Award for Broken Tail: A Tiger’s Last Journey, presented at the 2011 Jackson Hole Wildlife Festival at Grand Teton Park on Thursday, October 6, 2011. This is Nature’s first time receiving the Festival’s top prize, considered one of the wildlife industry’s highest honors.
In total, Nature received six of 22 awards at the Festival. Two of the winning films will premiere this fall on THIRTEEN, including the season opener Radioactive Wolves and My Life as a Turkey.
Launched in 1991, the Jackson Hole Wildlife Festival‘s biennial conference is an unmatched international industry event drawing over 650 international leaders in science,conservation, broadcasting and media. Internationally renowned as one of the largest and most prestigious competitions of the nature genre, this year’s competition included 510 films from more than 30 countries.
Broken Tail: A Tiger’s Last Journey (Premiere date: February 20, 2011)
Crossing the Line Films and Nature for WNET New York Public Media.
Produced in association with RTÉ, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, SWR, ZDF, Arte and
• Best of Festival “Grand Teton Award”
• Best Hosted or Presenter-Led Program
• Best Conservation Program Elsa’s Legacy: The Born Free Story (Premiere date: January 9, 2011)
Brian Leith Productions, BBC and Nature for WNET New York Public Media
• Conservation Hero Award (for Virginia McKenna)
Radioactive Wolves (Premiere date: October 19, 2011)
EPO Film for ORF/Universum, NDR and Nature for WNET New York Public Media
• Best Wildlife Habitat Program
My Life as a Turkey(Premiere date: November 16, 2011)
Passion Pictures, Nature for WNET New York Public Media and BBC
• Best Writing (for Joe Hutto & David Allen)
Watch a preview of what’s coping up on Nature’s 30th season:
For the first time in history, the four leading government and private organizations overseeing management of the Great Lakes are meeting in Detroit simultaneously. Detroit Public Television is providing public access to those discussions with Greak Lakes Now, allowing all affected states, including New York, to be involved in the conference.
Great Lakes Week will take place in Detroit from October 11th to the 14th, and includes simultaneous conferences from the International Joint Commission, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Great Lakes Commission, Healing Our Waters/Great Lakes Coalition, and the EPA’s Areas of Concern annual meeting.
The event marks the largest gathering of scientists, political voices, educators, environmentalists, and interested groups ever assembled to discuss the status and the future of the Great Lakes.
Coverage highlights include:
• Keynote speakers: Former Vice President Al Gore, U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson
• Great Lakes Town Hall: Wednesday afternoon, with live online audience participation (Special Hashtag: #askGLW)
• Speakers from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Washington, Toronto, Windsor, Ottawa, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia
• Key Issues: Health of the Great Lakes, chemicals of concern, successful restoration efforts, economic and employment opportunities of the Great Lakes, invasive species, water quality, stormwater and wastewater issues, infrastructure issues, and algae bloom.
Live Programming Schedule (EST)
C-Span style coverage of conference sessions, interviews with experts and scientists.
Nature returns this fall for its 30th season, with the premiere of Radioactive Wolves on Wednesday, October 19.
Twenty-five years after the historic nuclear accident at Chernobyl, filmmakers and scientists set out to document the lives of the packs of wolves and other wildlife thriving in the “dead zone” which still surrounds the remains of the reactor.
The series takes a look at Alaska’s bear population, one of the largest in the world, to see how these fascinating and intelligent creatures live in the wild. Here, Morgan talks about his experience in Alaska and the importance of preserving, protecting and respecting bears and their natural habitat.
Inside Thirteen: What first interested you in studying bears?
Chris Morgan: When I was 18, I came on a life-changing trip to the U.S. where I worked at a summer camp in New Hampshire designed to teach kids about conservation and wildlife. One day a bear biologist visited and I started to talk to him about the work he was doing in Northern New Hampshire. And I was hooked, more than any of the kids, I think! I just couldn’t believe that you could be a bear biologist in life. I bugged him for weeks and finally he relented and picked me up in his pickup truck one night and took me down to his study area. We pulled up outside this garbage dump, which had 14 black bears on it lit up by moonlight. It just blew my mind! I’d only seen one black bear in the forest near the camp prior to that. I spent the whole night tranquilizing and tracking these bears. It changed my life – I was set to become a graphic designer back in England.
IT: How did you cope with being out in the wilds of Alaska for so long? What was the hardest part of the experience?
CM: I was out there on and off for a year. There were times when Joe [Pontecorvo] and I were camping and isolated for weeks at a time, but I love that. I’ve spent a lot of time in the wild in very isolated places, but in our first location, the Alaska Peninsula, the density of bears is like almost nowhere else on Earth. What was unique about that for me was camping and being in that environment for so many consecutive weeks – it’s such an immersive experience in the bears’ world.
Some of the hardest parts were the misery of a long drive on a motorcycle. Once you’ve crossed the Arctic Circle, it’s a psychological milestone, but then realizing you’ve still got hundreds of miles to go before you reach the north coast of Alaska…it’s just a colossal place and it really is representative of these amazing, large wild animals that we were filming. The other thing I think people assume about film is that it’s glamorous and easy. We put a lot of hard work in and many, many sleepless nights in order to get the shots that we wanted. When we were filming bears in the northwestern part of Alaska, we were in an area were the western Arctic caribou herd is. We put in a heck of a lot of time looking for these half-million animals, so we could then find the bears. We ended up with lots of sleepless nights and just basically taking catnaps. Joe is a very hard worker – he’ll film as long as there is light, and that’s a problem when you’re in the Arctic in the summer, because there’s always light!
IT: What are the key differences between the three types of bears?
CM: They are three very distinct species. The bear numbers give away a lot about their personality. There are probably 35,000 brown bears in Alaska, and 180,000 black bears, so they’re a little bit more numerous and flexible around humans because there’s more of them. There are probably 2,000 or 3,000 polar bears, and those populations are also shared with Canada and Russia. There are much smaller numbers of polar bears because they are highly specialized and they feed exclusively on meat. The brown bears (also called grizzly bears) are the consummate generalists; they’ll eat everything from berries to Arctic root plants to a moose carcass, when they come across it. Black bears need forest, so where you have forest in Alaska, you’ve got black bears in good numbers. Brown bears will also inhabit forests, but they will extend above the tree line and into the Arctic where it’s just wide-open tundra and no trees in sight.
There are a lot of similarities in terms of behavior. Generally speaking, brown bears are more likely to become defensive and charge than black bears. Black bears are more likely to run in the opposite direction, even if they have cubs.
IT: How did you make the bears feel comfortable in your presence? Have there ever been any incidents in your encounters where the bears were not so friendly or trusting?
Brown bear cub (Joseph Pontecorvo)
CM: In the case of the female with her cubs in the first episode, those cubs had never seen people before us. They’d just come out of their dens, and they were super inquisitive. They took it in like little sponges, like baby humans do. The cubs were playing around and the mother would just give them a stare or turn around while they’re running circles around her, like “alright, calm it down, don’t attract attention.”
On one occasion, a big male bear did charge us. He just got momentarily confused because a female ran behind us that he was chasing. I think he saw us as another bear – competition for his gal! He just charged right after us, and it’s a heart pumping moment. It’s not unusual for bears to charge people or other bears to give them a message, “hey you’re too close” or “you’re threatening me.” We’d not been doing any of those things, but they don’t talk, so they’ve got to express their concern in some way.
You have to take every possible precaution. I don’t approach the bears – if they graze past us, that’s a different thing. We were camping with electric fences around our tents – bear fences that zap 5,000 volts on a bear’s nose when it tries to come near your tent. Hopefully it doesn’t in the first place because the other thing you do is keep your kitchen and your food storage area a hundred yards away from where you’re camping. Never put food in your tent. You have to make sure the bear doesn’t relate you to food, because that can end in a dangerous situation, for the bear and for the people. I also carried bear spray the whole time. You never want to surprise any bears – make sure they know you’re coming, and that you shout out “hey, bear” every so often as you’re walking down the trail. Don’t threaten females with cubs, don’t approach a bear that’s sitting with a carcass of food – just common sense things.
IT: What were you most surprised to learn during your observations in Alaska?
CM: What really opened my eyes were the interactions between these bears during the breeding season, and how busy the place got. There are so many bears there, the females ended up being just as competitive as the males were for their love interests.
Overall though, I was surprised to learn how adaptable these animals are, and how different they all are. By the end of the third hour, it’s clear that any two bears you meet are as different as any two people you might meet. These are super smart animals, and because they’re smart they’ve got this ability to have different personalities and dispositions. They’re all individuals.
IT: What was your favorite location you visited in Alaska? What has been your favorite place your adventures studying bears has taken you?
CM: Probably my favorite place on the entire planet is the Alaska Peninsula. It’s like stepping back in time to 10,000 years ago. You could drop down at any moment, and it would feel the same. There aren’t many places in the world that feel that way. It’s one of the last really wild places that we have in the world and there’s something incredibly magical and special about that fact. You definitely feel like you’re the outsider when you’re there. Like it says in the film, it’s the bears’ world, we’re just visiting.
Svarbard, or some people call it Spitsbergen, is another one of my favorite places, in the European Arctic. It’s a Norwegian sovereignty – about 500 miles north of northern Norway. I’ve guided expeditions there for years to show people polar bears. It is mind-blowingly beautiful, like someone chopped off the Swiss Alps and plunked them in the middle of the ocean.
I love the north, and I’m drawn to the Arctic. The tropics are amazing, but for some reason I’m drawn to the coldest places because it makes you question your ability as a human, and you can’t help but respect a polar bear when he’s hunting seals in the pitch darkness all winter and it’s -40 degrees.
IT: It is asked in this episode, “How much wild are people in Anchorage willing to tolerate?” How much of a threat to Alaska’s bear population are humans and the urbanization of Alaska’s wild? Is anything being done to protect them or keep them “wild”?
Black bears crossing the road (Nimmida Pontecorvo)
CM: Anchorage is on the front line of what we call the wildlife-human interface. It’s where the wild ends and civilization begins. With a place like Anchorage, it’s like a dot of civilization in a sea of wilderness. There are wild animals in people’s backyards and on bicycle trails through parks in town and places where you’re perhaps not used to seeing a 1,000 lb brown bear or a moose or a black bear family. Most of the people in Anchorage are very accepting of having these wild neighbors and it’s partly why they live in Alaska. A lot of this Alaska pride comes through, like “Yes, we live in the wildest state in the Union.” It’s really refreshing. Sometimes things do go awry, where you’ll have a loose animal in someone’s backyard causing damage, or, in the worst-case scenario, you may have a person attacked by a bear. But it’s very rare considering the number of bears around. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has a team that consists of the two people that are actually in our film – Jessy Coltrane and Rick Sinnott. Their job is being on the front line of where the humans and wildlife meet. Sometimes it means them going in and capturing bears or tranquilizing a moose and removing them from a situation where they’re really close to people.
It’s great, because we can use places like Anchorage as a model for co-existence with humans. It’s more of what this planet needs. These animals, in many parts of the world, are really highly threatened and in trouble. You look to Alaska and you feel like this is the last place in the United States where at least the near future is secure for these bears. I live in Washington State; we’ve got about 20 grizzly bears here. I work on that population and I work with members of the public in these rural towns in grizzly bear country to help them understand what grizzly bears are, what we need to do to have more of them here, how we can live with bears. I live that every day, so going to a place like Alaska is an eye opener in terms of the possibilities for a place that’s still got these large populations of animals. The window will always be open.
In honor of Earth Week, THIRTEEN is featuring a lineup of environmentally friendly shows that inform by looking to our green pioneers of the past, and future initiatives set to make our planet more a efficient place.
Olmsted and America’s Urban Parks: A new documentary tracing the career of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, whose firm designed and built nearly 100 public parks, including Central Park. Airs Wednesday, April 20 at 10 p.m.
Nature: Survivors of the Firestorm: After bushfires tore through the Australian state of Victoria in February 2009, burned and traumatized survivors showed a remarkable ability to bounce back, and the environment an extraordinary capacity for healing. Airs Sunday, April 17 at 8 p.m.
Independent Lens – Wasteland: Brazilian artist Vik Muniz creates portraits of people using found materials from the places where they live and work. The film picks up as Muniz embarks on his next project, inspired by the trash pickers at the largest landfill on earth. Airs Tuesday, April 19 at 10 p.m.
NOVA – Power Surge: NOVA travels the globe to reveal the surprising technologies that just might turn back the clock on climate change. The show will focus on the latest innovations, ranging from artificial trees to green reboots of familiar technologies like coal and nuclear energy. Airs Wednesday, April 20 at 9 p.m.
What is the nature of human uniqueness? Where did the Human Spark ignite, and when? And perhaps most tantalizingly, why? In a three-part series to be broadcast on PBS in January 2010, Alan Alda takes these questions personally, visiting with dozens of scientists on three continents, and participating directly in many experiments – including the detailed examination of his own brain.
Inside THIRTEEN spoke with Alda and “The Human Spark” series producer Graham Chedd and executive producer Jared Lipworth about the upcoming series and what we can expect to learn about the nature of humanity itself.
Neal Shapiro, president and CEO of THIRTEEN, spoke with Alan Alda backstage at the Television Critics Association press tour about facing the critics, Alda’s history as an actor, and his work as the host of The Human Spark.
Standing a mile-and-a-half long on Manhattan’s west side is the elevated railroad known as the High Line. Built for freight deliveries in 1934, the last train ran on the High Line in 1980. From then on, nature took over – quietly, like a secret.
Wind and wildlife dispersed seeds over the abandoned railroad and a lush garden grew amid the ballast and steel tracks. Closed to the public, the trestle’s primary visitors were wild – birds, insects, and the occasional adventurous human. For these explorers, finding one’s self alone in a city of 8 million, 30 feet above street level, with a view of the Hudson River whose winds made the Irises and Evening Primrose sway – was magical. Meanwhile, on the ground, property owners in the surrounding area lobbied to demolish the High Line. But in 2002, a group called Friends of the High Line won the city’s support to preserve the railroad and turn it into a public space. The first section of the park opened in June 2009.
Botany is a force of nature whose quiet yet critical role in our ecosystem is often neglected. Fortunately, this is not the case with the new High Line park. In this video I interview Patrick Cullina, Vice President of Horticulture at the High Line, to learn more about this unique garden in the sky. When shooting this video, I also had my mother in mind – her carefully tended yard, and frequent childhood visits to the Bronx Botanical Garden where she’d take innumerable photos of my siblings and I next to the flowers. As an adult, I appreciate such beauty even more.