On Monday morning at the very inhospitable time of 4:50am BBC Knowledge will screen Planet Earth Live.
The reason behind the unusual timeslot is that the programme will air live in 140 countries at the same time. It will be the biggest live wildlife broadcast ever undertaken by the BBC, with camera crews situated on five continents.
Colin Jackson is a Senior Technical Producer with the BBC Natural History Unit and as he explains, the ambitious project hopes to capture a real-life natural history soap featuring animals in the wild.
“When we make shows like Frozen Planet or Planet Earth most of the time we’re looking for new science and trying to capture a particular sequence of an animal. But what we’ve discovered through shows like Spring Watch and Big Cat Diary on a day to day basis is that some things happen that are quite out of the ordinary, that might not be in a scientific paper but give you a real insight into how an animal’s mind thinks,” he says.
“The more you watch them the more you understand about them.”
Viewers can expect to see baby elephants in Kenya, black bears in Minnesota, Macaque monkeys in Sri Lanka and grey whales in the Pacific. Presenters include Richard Hammond live in Africa and Julia Bradbury in North America, with real-time filming techniques, up-close HD wildlife footage and spectacular cinematography.
“This event is different partly on scale and partly because we have different teams across the globe, which is more like a news outlet or even to some extent the Olympics. We’re relying on different teams and stories around the world filing on wildlife happening right now,” says Jackson.
“So it’s like a global news operation, so it’s quite daunting.”
“When we go live in the UK at 8pm in Minnesota it will be daytime and for another team it will be 11pm. So we will see presenters with wildlife that have been recorded earlier that day.”
But with live television, is there also a risk of danger with live animals?
“They are in the in the places where wildlife are so I’m not ruling out the possibility that wildlife may wander onto the set. They are broadcasting live from the middle of the Masai Mara National Game Reserve in Kenya but it will be dark. We have a thermal imaging camera to capture anything that can be seen. There are hippos around there and they may well walk around in the back of the set, but you have to bear in mind that we have to keep our crews safe,” he explains.
“In Minnesota there are black bears in and around that area. Whether they actually turn up at that point we obviously can’t guarantee.”
The crew have also been following newly-born lion cubs in Kenya.
“The risks for them are real, it’s raining very heavily in the Masai Mara right now and they risk being flooded out of their dens, they risk being murdered by their own fathers, potentially. So we just hope we’re able to tell the story in real time.
“In Northern Minnesota the snow hit much earlier than normal so the black bears have come out of their dens significantly earlier than other years which leaves the young bear cubs very, very vulnerable.
“What we’re trying to do is to tell a real life soap opera where nature writes the script. So we’re putting all the skills that the natural history unit have got to tell those stories in a compelling way for the audience. Live TV isn’t all about the potential for somebody to be eaten, it’s about being there in the real time to give a sense that the audience is coming along with us.”
The good news for Australian viewers is that BBC Knowledge will also repeat the event on Monday night at 7:30pm.
Monday May 7 at 4:50am and 7:30pm (AEST)
Friday May 11 at 5:00am and 7:30pm (AEST)
Monday May 14 at 5:00am and 7:30pm (AEST)
Friday May 18 at 5:00am and 7:30pm (AEST)
Monday May 21 at 5:00am and 7:30pm (AEST)
Friday May 25 at 5:00am and 7:30pm (AEST)