JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

 

 

Notes

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.

References

Aldridge, M. and R. Dingwall (2003) "Teleology on Television? Implicit Models of Evolution in Broadcast Wildlife and Nature programs," European Journal of Communication, 18 (4): 435-453

Bell, M. (2004) "The serpent’s tale," Broadcast, 2 July: 22

Benton, M. (2001) "The science of “Walking with Dinosaurs," Teaching Earth Sciences, 24: 371-400

Boswall, J. (1982) "Wildlife television: towards 2001," Wildlife 24 (6): 222-25

Bousé, D. (2000) Wildlife Films, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press

Bristow, M. (2000) "Survival of the fittest," Broadcast, 6 October: 19

Bruneau, M-A and S.Walker (1998) "A Natural New Order," Television Business International, July/August: 22-5

Campbell, L. (2004) "A force of nature," Broadcast, 8 October: 17

Clarke, S. (2000) "An endangered species," Broadcast 6 October: 16 –21

Clarke, S. (2001) "Wild kingdom?" Realscreen, 1 August: 24

Cottle, S. (2004) "Producing nature(s): on the changing production ecology of natural history TV," Media, Culture & Society, Vol. 26 (1): 81-101

Dean, R. (2004) "Spies in the natural world," Broadcast, 8 October: 22-3

Englaender, W. (1997) "Some reflections by a student of animal behaviour," EBU diffusion (summer): 5-8

Fry, A. (2000) "Big game hunter," Broadcast, 6 October: 21

Fry, A. (2004) "Dormant no longer," Realscreen, October: 71- 5

Hill, A. (2005) Reality TV: Audiences and Popular Factual Television, London, Routledge

Holmwood, L. (2001) "Back from the wild," Broadcast, 24 August: 26

James, J. (1985) "Art & artifice in wildlife films," Discover, September issue: 91-7

Keighron, P. 92001) "Life preserver," Broadcast, 6 October: 18

Kilborn, R. and J. Izod (1997) An Introduction to Television Documentary: Confronting Reality, Manchester, Manchester university Press

Kilborn, R. (2003) Staging the Real: Factual TV Programming in the Age of Big Brother, Manchester, Manchester university Press

Madslien, J. (2004) "Making wildlife films sexy," BBC News [bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/business/3742406.stm]

Mills, S. (1997) "Pocket tigers: The sad unseen reality behind the wildlife film," Times Literary Supplement, 21 Feb: 6

O’Donnell, R. (2004) "Putting a roar into wildlife programming," Broadcast, 2 July: 24-5

Philo, G. and L. Henderson (1998) What The Audience Thinks: Focus group research into the likes and dislikes of UK wildlife viewers. A report by the Glasgow Media Group commissioned by Wildscreen.

Willis, J. (1998) "Fall of the wild," Guardian (Part 2), 12 October: 104

Wollaston, S. (2004) "The bite stuff," Guardian (Part 2), 27 October: 2


To topPrint versionJC 48 Jump Cut home