Planet Earth Live: Making ambitious wildlife programmes

Wednesday 9 May 2012, 18:58

Tim Scoones Tim Scoones Excecutive Producer Springwatch

We are delighted to say that over five million viewers tuned in to watch the wildlife action on Planet Earth Live on Sunday and we are hoping they will join us for tonight's updates with Richard Hammond in Kenya and Julia Bradbury in Minnesota. While millions tuned in, thousands are following the regular updates from the field on Twitter and on the website following @bbcplanetearth.

Our guys are filming 24 hours a day, seven days a week so that we can bring audiences all the action and the news highlights in our three times weekly programmes. We have five separate outside broadcasts transmitting from often quite inhospitable locations, so there is a bit of a large margin for error in this hugely ambitious project. As the action develops in the field, Richard and Julia are on hand to present the latest news and analysis of these real life events going on around the world.

Wildlife filming is a long, drawn out and arduous process. Programmes like Frozen Planet are years in the making but we are doing this in a matter of weeks. Animals don't act on cue and rarely behave as we would like them to, which is why we present the action as pre-edited news packages. The camera guys put in the groundwork so that we can bring our discerning natural history audiences the most fantastic and up to date stories - real-stories of real action and not endless footage of a location where there's a risk that nothing happens.

Ten years of experience on series like Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Big Cat Live have taught us that sharing the thought that animal stories are playing out and we don't know what is going to happen next makes for compelling viewing and a wonderfully real and connected experience. We have also learned that simply delivering pure, raw, live images only does not deliver enough of the much more exciting and informative drama that our audiences expect and deserve.

Julia Bradbury

Julia Bradbury co-hosts Planet Earth Live on BBC One.

It is worth noting that reality shows and news programmes have reached the same conclusion - it's the content and the ongoing story that matters, not the method of how we then package and present it to our audience. Richard and Julia present live in the field so that we can deliver up to date reports of real, ongoing events. Planet Earth Live is doing just this, and on a scale that we have never dreamed of before. We have camera teams and experts working around the clock, around the globe, capturing the action as it happens and filing reports to send back to base. The shows are then transmitted from Kenya and the USA and from our control hub at BBC Bristol onto BBC ONE and simulcast or as-live transmitted to 140 countries worldwide. Its quite a technical feat, and is the most ambitious wildlife broadcast event of its kind ever undertaken.

The stars of the show include lions, elephants, black bears, grey whales, giant river otters, toque macaques, meerkats and polar bears filmed in various locations in Africa, America, Asia, South America and the Arctic. Already they are developing their own following thanks to the real-time twitter updates from the teams in the field and their appearances on the BBC Planet Earth Live website. Gavin Thurston's little macaque Gremlin is causing a stir while Moja, the solo bear cub, is fighting for survival with his brave mum has us all rooting for him.

Our presenters are live in every show, discussing the latest action and news with our expert cameramen in the field. The reason we chose Richard and Julia is that they are consummate professionals well used to working with this live action environment. They are surrounded by experts - who we carefully chose for their experience in the field and with that particular species. And so, as Richard so succinctly put it in an interview with the Daily Mirror - when people ask why the bloke from Top Gear is doing a programme on nature "I can address that head on . I'm there to ask the questions and be amazed. Julia and I are not going to be afraid to ask those questions that perhaps some experts wouldn't because they assume greater knowledge."

In terms of the live nature of the series, we are reporting as a news programme would on recent events. We have never promised live footage of animals. The audience is sharing the action with the presenters and filmmakers with nature writing the script and our teams presenting the most interesting and informative parts of the animals' stories. The presenters are indeed hosting the show live and our web site is receiving updates from all over the world. If any animals are spotted during these live presenter moments and are relevant and interesting we will show them but this has never been our core purpose.

I hope you enjoy watching the series and follow us on the web. We are certainly having the time of our lives making it and we are grateful to Mother Nature for already writing us some amazing scripts.

Tim Scoones is Executive Producer, Planet Earth Live


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Hi Tim,

    I'm so glad to here your having a whale of time at our expense, I see ur reading the news back here about the fact of very very very little live action and your hopeless presenters.

    You can't even defend the position ....

    What muppet decided to go and film in africa on the MM when the only animals there are starving and it's in the middle of the night and raining. If it was your money would you honestly pay to go on a safari at this time of year?
    Quote "in terms of the live nature of the series, we are reporting as a news programme would on recent events. We have never promised live footage of animals." It's called planet earth "LIVE" ... WHAT do you think we expected?

    You know all the comments regarding this are true and justified, in these economic times how can the BBC justify this HUGE expense?

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Just had to say I disagree with the poster above. Whilst Richard Hammond & Julia Bradbury are maybe not who I'd have wished for as anchors, they're doing a good job in general. (For the record I'd have gone with Simon King in the Mara and Gordon Buchanan in Minnesota) Anyone with half a brain cell knows that time differences mean the animals cannot all be shown as live broadcast, some are, some are recorded for later broadcast. (virtually all shows billed as live, including results shows for things like Strictly and The Voice are pre-recorded anyway).

    Someone told me they hadn't been watching because they "didn't want to see baby animals being killed or anything and they didn't want their child to see it and be upset". I think it's important that the realities of wildlife are shown, babies will die, starve, be killed and issues like poaching need to be brought fully into the public eye.

    Tim - could we get some concrete confirmations as to what will be included in the next programme please? Was waiting for the meerkats and polar bears, but they weren't on last night.

    People moaned about Springwatch because the badgers didn't show up, or the baby birds fledged outside the live broadcast - I recall reading one comment about Planet Earth Live that "the animals weren't doing anything interesting" - ye Gods. It's not Disney, they don't tap-dance past the camera singing The Circle of Life! They don't appear or do stuff on cue - it'd make wildlife cameramen's jobs a lot easier if they did. Congrats to Charlie Hamilton-James, Toby Strong, Gavin Thurston, Jamie McPherson, Gordon Buchanan and all the other cameramen filming these wonderful sights of nature - probably the only chance I will ever get to see most of them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Hi Tim,
    I am very disappointed with this programme. Over many years I have grown up with and enjoyed most of the programmes put out by the Natural History Unit, but this is dreadful. I know the BBC are trying to target younger people and by using "popular presenters" they hope to get a new audiance, but they are dishing up a poor offering that can only appeal to very few people and is an insult to the intelligence of most of its viewers both young & older.
    I would love to know who made the decision to use this style of presentation. If you cast your minds back to Big Cat Diary, this was a successful programme that was enjoyed and the format was spot on. Then they changed it to Big Cat Live and parachuted Kate Silverton in ( who can ever forget the Out of Africa suit and single mum referances) and it was universally slated and then dropped. I am afraid this will go down as another example of poor decision making at producer level. You say that Richard & Julia were chosen as they are consumate professionals. Well that may be your opinion, but all I can say from my immediate family & friends beg to differ and find Richard Hammonds skills very limited to say the least & Julia Bradbury may be OK in small doses but usually comes over in a condescending manner. Will these heads of departments look truthfully at the negative comments on both the blogs and also the Points of View Messageboard or will they just go along with their eternal search for the young viewer. I so wanted to watch a well made & presented programme, but this is aimed at, maybe unintentionally, to young children and will generally irritate the usual audiance a wildlife programme attracts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Is there any chance of you or another producer coming on to the TV or to a blog or even (god forbid) the POV board and discussing the hundreds of complaints about this programme?

    And I see you start this blog by congratulating yourself on getting 5 million viewers the first night. No mention of the fact that the second programme had only 3 million. Keep dropping those kinds of numbers and it will One Man and his dog watching.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Only 118 complaints? Do you happen to have a blindfold on by any chance? Have you read the comments on the message board?

    You have an indefensible position. The whole programme was badly conceived and the choice of presenters nothing less that an unmitigated disaster. Why, why, why did you think that someone more know for beating up the environment in supercars was capable of presenting a wildlife programme? The most ambitious wildlife programme ever made by the BBC? Well, that might have been your ambition but unfortunately it has fallen way, way below your and the public's expectations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.


    You post is an insult to us all.

    Why not answer the points that have been raised on the following bbc forums rather than post this rubbish?

    there are many other forums on the bbc complaining about the presenters and the content.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Oh dear who commissioned this? Who thought Richard Hammond and Julia Bradbury could do this when they have no experience in this field of work? You could have made this work so well and its been a total disaster with those pair at the helm. I literally cringe every time Hammond opens his mouth. Julia well.... I feel like she is very condescending and talking to a younger audience. It would have been good with Simon King/Gordon Buchanan least they know what they are talking about and are good at what they do. Its actually got that bad, we've switched it over to watch Britain's Got Talent and that's speaks volumes!

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Please repeat a wildlife programme that is done by David Attenborough instead of this. This would massively reduce costs and would also be better at informing people abotu wildlife. Also I would like to add that Richard Hammond is not suitable to do a wildlife program considering he is most famous for a show that disregards the environment and abuses people who do care about the environment and wildlife.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Well, you invited us onto this blog from the other one. Too much music. Too much dreary, monotone narrative, too much "it really doesn't look good.....we'll find out later", too much presenters on screen. David Attenborough doesn't take central stage on his wildlife programmes. The only one he really featured in was when he joined a group of Gorillas. When he talks, his voices blends into the background. Johnny Kingdom, Kate Humble, Bill Oddie, Simon King are all passionate about wildlife, and it shows. They don't eclipse the wildlife.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I just want to say how much my family and I are enjoying this series. Being able to see all those wonderful animals in their own habitats, and learning more about them is great. All the animals are soooo cute!! Well done Planet Earth Live, keep up the good work!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Totally disagree, can't believe you are all whinging about such a fantastic programme. Fully support the packaged approach otherwise we would be unlikely to see the defining poignant moments in the animals lives that make you connect and identify with them, especially as a mother myself. Richard and Julia both make it interesting and accessible and their enthusiasm is catching.

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Richard Hammond is great when he's talking about lumps of metal on wheels. However, he really is NOT the right choice of Presenter for Planet Earth Live! To chart the lives of these magnificent creatures on the most beautiful and magical place on earth, the presenter needs to possess an extremely humane streak.
    Humane:- characterized by tenderness, compassion, and sympathy for people and animals, especially for the suffering or distressed.
    Hammond needs to familiarise himself with this definition. Furthermore, I take exception to Hammond referring to his flight over such charming and mystifying landscape as a "commute" - when it is one of the greatest privileges! BBC - please don't ruin such great footage with a Presenter who is out of his depth, removed from and unfamiliar with his subject matter.
    On the plus side, the camera man who filmed and spoke about the otters in the Amazon was absolutely brilliant! Very in tune with his subjects; heartfelt and passionate presenting!

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    I appreciate the technical complexity and the scale of what you're attempting with Planet Earth Live but I'm afraid these things alone do not satisfy or excite viewers. There are three problems with this series:

    1. A lot of viewers simply can't get past the choice of presenters and this is proving to be a major distraction from the actual content. There are plenty of equally talented, professional presenters who specialise in natural history so I find your defence weak. Chris Packham, Simon King, Gordon Buchanan, Jonathan Scott, Steve Backshall and Michaela Strachan have all cut the mustard on live TV and I don't believe any of them would stretch a BBC One audience (or an international one).

    2. The association with Planet Earth is a mistake. Planet Earth is rightly seen as one of the crown jewels of wildlife filmmaking, and this programme is something else entirely. Viewers attracted to the programme through the connotation of the title were always going to be left disappointed, and in the process the BBC have devalued one of their most prestigious brands.

    3. The animal "stars" have all been on our screens very recently, and in better programmes. The black bears in Minnesota featured in Gordon Buchanan's series last year and previously in a Natural World episode. The sea otter in Monterey Bay marina also featured in Natural World. Polar bears got plenty of screen time in Frozen Planet and Spy on the Ice. Elephant Diaries and The Secret Life of Elephants were shown in the last few years, as were the Marsh Pride in Big Cat Diaries. The grey whales were shown in Last Chance to See and meerkats are ubiquitous. All these programmes outshine Planet Earth Live, so viewers again feel short-changed because the subjects are over familiar, the footage is not as good and the stories are not as strong.

    All in all, a series of muddled decisions by the producers. I would far rather the money spent on this series had been put towards the next Planet Earth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    well I too am glad that your're all having a whale of a time at our expense. When I saw that comment at the end of your piece on Julia Bradbury's blog I thought it was a spoof - took me a while to realise you were the producer. I gave up watching after the first 15 minutes of the first programme, in fact I find the POV pages and your blogs more entertaining.

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Planet Earth Live - what a sad way to squander years of public trust and belief in the excellence of BBC wildlife programming.

    cjp1979 hit the spot in post 14 - I would just like to add you should be sued under the Trade Descriptions Act for calling it "Live".

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Tim. Genuine question. As a professional, whose reputation and future commissioning possibly depends to an extent upon Planet Earth Live, are you happy with it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    What a total waste of money! Awful prestenters with no qualification for this kind of programing. The childish rubbish that Richard Hammond spouts is beyond belief.
    No live action to speak of! How on earth have you got this SO wrong?
    The Natural History Department is the beacon of quality programming at the BBC but sadly the beacon this time seems to have been reduced to a cheap lighter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Steve Backshall's Deadly 60 series on CBBC is better than this garbage. I don't per se mind Hamond & Bradbury but you guys are portraying them as patronising idiots.

    Time to review the BBC nature financial budget & quality control. Please consider we live in times of austerity.


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