Epic series of survival in the wild debuts
By David Bauder
The theme of the 11-part Discovery Channel series "Life" is as simple as the title: the fascinating things creatures large and small do to stay alive.
That's all that's simple about it.
The project, a co-production with the BBC that debuts today, was four years in the making. A team of 70 camera operators working on every continent spent 3,000 filming days, even trying technology that had never been used before, such as a stabilized camera on a helicopter that gives viewers the sensation of running along with a pack of migrating reindeer.
"If there was ever a reason for someone to have HD or to invest in an HD set, this is it," said Clark Bunting, Discovery Channel's president.
It is, in fact, a project that seems created for high-definition technology, with fruit bats munching on mangoes in Zambia, a basilisk lizard walking on water and stag beetles fighting and mating in trees.
Narrated by Oprah Winfrey, "Life" is reminiscent of Discovery's 2007 series "Planet Earth," which brought big ratings and, perhaps more important, oceans of DVD sales.
This series opens with an overview, followed by separate one-hour episodes on animal groups such as mammals, primates, insects and birds. Two one-hour episodes air each Sunday through April 18.
"Life" claims many filming firsts. The cameras catch gobies in Hawai'i climbing waterfalls to lay their eggs, a hummingbird courtship ritual, dolphins creating circles of mud to catch prey, more than a dozen polar bears dining on a whale carcass and komodo dragons patiently poisoning a water buffalo for two weeks until it dies.
Plants also get an episode, where time-lapse photography shows the entire growing season in a woodland.
The photographers often had to wait days or weeks to get the shots they were looking for, Bunting said. Then, it could all happen in a matter of seconds, as when a pebble toad rolled down a mountain to escape a tarantula.
It was a requirement that the crews do nothing to alter the behavior of the creatures, he said.
Projects like "Life" are important for the buzz factor at a time when viewers have so many choices, said Shari Anne Brill, a television analyst formerly with the Madison Avenue firm Carat USA.
"It gets people talking," Brill said. "It gets people watching and every now and then a network needs to do that to make people aware that they're there."