BBC announces a new line-up of Natural History commissions

Tom McDonald, BBC Head of Commissioning, Natural History and Specialist Factual, today announces five exciting new commissions for BBC One and BBC Two.

Published: 25 September 2017
These new titles will combine never-before seen animal interactions, cutting-edge photography, brilliant storytelling and expert voices
— Tom McDonald, Head of Commissioning, Natural History and Specialist Factual
  • Sir David Attenborough investigates the amazing life story of one of the most famous animals to have ever lived in Jumbo: The Life Of An Elephant Superstar.
  • Big Cats is an in-depth look at the lives of the cat family
  • Naturalist Chris Packham exposes the myths surrounding the most famous and iconic predator to have ever walked the earth in T Rex
  • We follow six wild baby animals for First Year On Earth
  • The world’s most extraordinary wildlife living in the newest and fastest changing habitat on the planet - human cities - is revealed in Wild Cities.

Tom McDonald says: “It has been a brilliant 12 months for Natural History at the BBC with Planet Earth II, Spy In The Wild and Wild Alaska Live among the very many highlights which have delivered huge viewing figures. These new titles will combine never-before seen animal interactions, cutting-edge photography, brilliant storytelling and expert voices to surprise, delight and inform the audience in completely new ways. At the heart of each of these commissions is is innovation: in form, in content and in capture."

Notes to Editors

All BBC One series also commissioned by Charlotte Moore, Director TV Content and iPlayer

All BBC Two series also commissioned by Patrick Holland, Controller, BBC Two

TD 

One group of animals fascinates and enthrals us more than any other - the planet’s top predators, the cats. Big Cats (w/t), a three-part series for BBC One, is the ultimate, definitive celebration of the entire cat family, from the captivating big cats to the secret and surprising small cats.

Cats are naturally secretive, elusive and cryptic animals. Only now have the latest developments in filming technology, and a surge in feline research, enabled us to bring the cat superstars out of the shadows. Among numerous highlights, a stabilised super slow motion camera mounted on an all-terrain buggy gets us closer than ever before to a sprinting cheetah. On a beach in Costa Rica a military grade thermal camera unveils the nocturnal hunting activity of a remarkable jaguar. Highly sensitive low light cameras record the first ever wild images of the black footed cat, the smallest but deadliest cat in Africa.

If you think you know cats, think again - there’s far more to this charismatic family. Cats are tender, intelligent and emotional; their varied lives are vastly more complex than we’d previously realised.

Exploring the social side of cats, their communication, parental care, and courtship, offers amazing new perspectives and new insight. Big Cat delves deeper than ever before into their elusive world, revealing the secret lives of these mysterious animals.

Big Cats (w/t), a 3x60’ for BBC One, is a A BBC Studios’ Natural History Unit Production for BBC and PBS, co-produced with France Télévisions. The Executive Producer is Mike Gunton, and the Series Producer Gavin Boyland. The Commissioning Editor is Tom McDonald, Head of Commissioning, Natural History, Science and Specialist Factual.

Jumbo: The Life Of An Elephant Superstar (working title)

David Attenborough investigates the life and death of the world’s most famous elephant - a celebrity animal superstar who inspired the movie Dumbo - with unique access to Jumbo’s skeleton at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

David will be working with a team of scientists, conservationists and elephant experts to unravel the complex and dramatic history of what many thought was the largest elephant in the world.

How big was he in reality? What clues can be found in Jumbo’s bones? How did he live and how did he die? And can they explain his terrifying night rages?

Arriving in London Zoo in 1865, Jumbo fast became a firm favourite of Queen Victoria and her children, nicknamed the Children’s Pet. Yet behind the scenes, this gentle giant was living a double life - smashing his den, breaking his tusks and being pacified by large amounts of alcohol. Then, quite suddenly, London Zoo caused public outrage by selling Jumbo to PT Barnum’s circus in America, where he travelled with his keeper to start a new life. But while his time in America would turn him into star with 20 million people coming to see him, his life ended tragically and mysteriously.

As well as Jumbo’s skeleton, David explores the lives of wild elephants to explain Jumbo’s troubled mind, and he discovers how our attitude to captive elephants has changed dramatically in recent years.

Jumbo: The Life Of An Elephant Superstar (w/t), a 1x60’ for BBC One, is made by Humble Bee Films and Infield Fly Productions for BBC and CBC. The Executive Producers are Stephen Dunleavy and Dugald Maudsley, and the BBC Commissioning Editor is Craig Hunter.

First Year On Earth

The first year in an animal’s life is said to be the most challenging it will ever experience.

In this unique television first we follow six, very different, wild animal babies across their first 12 months: a leopard cub, a baby mountain gorilla, an infant African elephant, a baby toque macaque, a black bear cub and a sea otter pup.

Working alongside long-term scientific studies, our camera operators Susan Gibson, Vianet Djenguet and Colin Stafford Johnson will gain remarkable access to the infants’ world and follow them across the year. The experts’ knowledge will help us film new scientific revelations, capture remarkable behavior and follow emotional stories.

A baby mountain gorilla in Uganda must learn to climb thin branches to get food; a very dangerous job for such a heavy animal. An otter pup is kidnapped by a male, who holds it to ransom for food. A baby elephant must learn the infrasound language of its group. A macaque gets a shock when it starts to become independent of its mother and discovers its place in the hierarchy.

We will step out of our animals’ intimate lives to place their stories in the wider world, where humans and animals must exist side by side. For some this will present opportunities, if they can learn how to take advantage. But for others climate change, deforestation and conflict with humans will impact them, their families and their entire species.

First Year On Earth, a 3x60’ for BBC Two, is a BBC Studios’ Natural History Unit Production for BBC and PBS. The Executive Producer is Rupert Barrington and the Series Producer is Dominic Weston. The BBC Commissioning Editor is Craig Hunter.

T Rex

Naturalist and T Rex enthusiast Chris Packham will embark on a journey to discover the astonishing truth behind the T Rex, which has endured centuries of inaccuracy and misrepresentation fuelled by films and gaps in our scientific understanding.

Travelling the globe meeting international experts, Chris will reveal groundbreaking insights into not just what T Rex looked like but into its behaviour, exposing the real beast behind the myth. With both a new understanding of palaeontology and zoology, and trailblazing technology, Chris will then attempt to create the most accurate CGI representation of the T-Rex ever produced.

In order to bring the T Rex to life, Chris will have access to ‘Tristan’, the fullest Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil in the world, as well as the latest scientific research to help reconstruct the brain, voice and the full force of its bone-crushing jaws.

Chris Packham says: “Big, fierce and extinct! It's the most famous, most glamorous poster pin-up in the zoological world; it's the greatest animal that ever lived. And yet perhaps the most misrepresented too. It's time to put that right. T Rex has evolved more in my lifetime than the last 65 million years. It's gone from a grey tail-dragging dullard to an intelligent, social super-predator. Using science we will at last tell the truth about T Rex. Don't bother to put the kettle on!”

T Rex, a 1x60’ for BBC Two, is a co-production between Talesmith and Cineflix. The Executive Producer is Martin Williams and the BBC Commissioning Editor is Diene Petterle.

Wild Cities is a series revealing the world’s most extraordinary wildlife living in the newest and fastest changing habitat on the planet - human cities.

Building on the final episode of Planet Earth II, this innovative series will feature a diverse cast of animals that are adjusting to this new world better than we could have predicted, not only applying their natural born skills and abilities to life in the city, but also making amazing physical or behavioural adaptations.

With an emphasis on beauty and the highest cinematographic standards this definitive series on urban wildlife behaviour will follow animals at critical times of their lives, and showcase the urban world with the same epic scale, ambition and techniques used to film the natural world.

From humpback whales breaching in New York’s Hudson Bay to huge colonies of megabats in Adelaide; from golden jackals hunting in Tel Aviv to bald eagles that soar through Vancouver, we’ll experience our most-loved and familiar cities through fresh eyes… the eyes of the animals that live in them, showing a wilder side to a world we think we know.

Wild Cities will reveal the world’s most extraordinary wildlife living in a new landscape, seeking new opportunities, alongside new neighbours… us!

Wild Cities, a 3x60’ for BBC Two, is a BBC Studios’ Natural History Unit Production for BBC and PBS. The Executive Producer is Roger Webb and the Series Producer is Matt Brandon. The Commissioning Editor is Tom McDonald, Head of Commissioning, Natural History and Specialist Factual.

Pictured: Arizona Bark Scorpion in Las Vegas USA