The above article is an updated version of a paper given at the 11th Visible Evidence conference held in Bristol (UK) in December 2003. I am indebted to Jeffery Boswall, for many years a TV wildlife producer at the BBC, and to Derek Bousé, author of the most insightful book to date on wildlife film, for their valuable comments on the original manuscript.
1. Some would argue that wildlife programming has always been heavily determined by the entertainment imperative.
2. The prestigious BBC Natural History Unit (NHU) based in Bristol has also, in recent years, been forced to evolve a new survival strategy, with the emphasis on diversification. As the former head of NHU has commented in this connection: "In common with all program-makers, the challenge for us is to find fresh subjects or, more importantly, to tackle subject matter with a fresh approach that will engage audiences. I am optimistic about the future and I would argue that the NHU is in the middle of a fantastic renaissance (cited in Clark 2001: 24)
3. Some would argue, of course, that wildlife programming most necessarily be somewhat conservative in style if it is to lay claim to being educative.
4. It is worth noting the "serious" documentary has, in recent times, enjoyed something of a renaissance in the cinema. Films such as Fahrenheit 9-11, Supersize Me and most recently Power of Nightmares have enjoyed both box-office and critical acclaim.
5. The recent reality series I’m a Celebrity Get me out of here (Channel 4, 2004) operates with a very similar series of calculations about what will appeal to the popular TV audience.
6. The parallels also extend to the types of camera and microphone technology developed to capture these animal and human exchanges. As one observer comments: “While reality shows lean heavily on covert and other shooting techniques developed by natural history program-makers, a far broader and expanding armoury of technology is emerging to capture the more diverse frolics of unsuspecting inhabitants of the wild.” (Dean, 2004: 22)
7. The attempt to create that sense of being (un)comfortably close to wildlife creatures — whether these be living or extinct! – is mirrored in the frequent use of gerunds in the titles of recent (nominally) wildlife series: Walking with Dinosaurs, Swimming with Dolphins, Talking with Fishes [UK, 2004].
8. The success of the BBC series Walking with Dinosaurs, for instance, is in part explained by how it combines the educational natural history attraction of Life on Earth with the imaginative, gripping appeal of films like Spielberg’s Jurassic Park.
9. The same criticism is levelled more generally at the dwindling number of serious cutting-edge documentaries in today’s TV schedules
10. Further proof that TV wildlife is becoming a branch of the wider entertainment industry is provided by the links which can be drawn between the more popular televized wildlife shows (such as several of those which appear on the Animal Planet channel) and the type of circus-like show on offer at the Disney-world or Universal Studios theme parks.
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