The first environmental TV series and Green Thirteen

April 22nd, 2009

from: Robin Edgerton, editor,

We wanted to do special for Earth Day here at THIRTEEN, so we looked for the biggest fish we could find: the first environmental tv series, Our Vanishing Wilderness which was produced for THIRTEEN back when we were NET, National Educational Television. We’ve also started a new mini-site, Green Thirteen, where we’ll be putting environmental content both new and old, both print and video.

Our Vanishing Wilderness

It starts with a book. Husband and wife team the Grossmans (Shelly was a nature photographer, Mary Louise a nature writer) published it in 1969. It has the air of a textbook, a coffee table book, and a natural history all in one. Also titled Our Vanishing Wilderness, it examined some of the threats to the natural environment, particularly in the US. (It must have been fairly popular, because used copies are common). In transferring to television, the production team made the material more political and particularly topical, yet still beautifully filmed.

The program itself has an odd production style rarely seen today: interviewees provide much of the narration, but you only very occasionally see them on camera. You might hear the voice of five or six different people in a show, but never know what they look like. The main narrator, gravelly-voiced Weeki Wachee naturalist and writer John Hamlet, fills in the audio spaces in between.

What takes center stage are the animals: some of the scenes are incredible…like that of an owl fighting a snake (from The Chain of Life)…a battle that has some twists and turns (I won’t tell you who wins). Another memorable, if somewhat terrifying sequence, involves an alligator being skinned (presumably by poachers) in real time (from Gator Glades).

The show is of its era, to be sure. The episode about the Alaskan Pipeline is mostly speculative. And the episode about the Taos Pueblo Indians was out of date 2 weeks after broadcast, when Richard Nixon finally signed over their ancestral lands to the tribe. We’ve tried to add some information next to the online videos, updating the 40-year-old stories with what’s happened to these animals and ecosystems between then and now.

other topics covered:

* How the growing water demands of South Florida’s population explosion meant drastic changes for Everglades wildlife
* A look at the effects of a large oil spill and pesticide runoff on Santa Barbara’s local oceanic wildlife
* An examination of development around Pyramid Lake, Nevada
* How the animals on the American Prairies were fairing, population-wise: coyotes, bison, prairie dogs, and even black-footed ferrets–before they were declared extinct in the wild; then brought back from the brink in the last decade

We will soon hopefully have an interview with Mary Louise Grossman; and want to thank production team members Philip Goodman and Frederick Aranow. Sadly, Shelly Grossman passed away a few years after O.V.W. was aired.

Green Thirteen

We’ve also created a new minisite where we will be linking to environmental content both new and old. It launches with a series of interviews — we’re calling them ’13Q’ aka 13 Questions. We’ve asked experts in a number of different environmental fields, from a marine chemistry expert who talks about what exactly is in the waters around NYC, to an expert on environmental issues around the growth of nanotechnology. We’ll be rolling out one a day for a week or so, and may add to them over time.

What would you like to see us include on this site? Let us know in the comments below.

Earth Day Giveaway!

Because we like you, register to win a tote bag full of eco-themed dvds from NOVA, Frontline, Nature, even Sesame Street! Deadline: April 30, 2009.