NOTE: Be sure to read the update at the bottom of this post for the latest - good! - news on this story.
There's been a lot of buzz in the green and mainstream press the past couple days about a new show called Frozen Planet and whether the Discovery Channel version is going to contain the same climate change-related messages as the version the BBC is currently airing.
Full Disclosure: Since 2007, Discovery Communications has been the parent company of TreeHugger, and so we are especially curious to learn what the real story is. We, maintain editorial control over our site and we aren't involved in any programming related decisions at Discovery. No one asked us to write this post. But, being part of the Discovery family, we were especially curious to find out what was going on, and so did some digging at Discovery HQ.
First, some background for context. For years, the BBC and Discovery Channel have co-produced some amazing big-budget nature programs, such as Planet Earth, LIFE, Human Planet, Blue Planet and now Frozen Planet.
We asked a few people at Discovery what the deal was with this Frozen Planet show and they explained that while the BBC is already airing its version of Frozen Planet, the Discovery Channel version is still being edited, since it is not scheduled to air in the US until sometime in the first quarter of 2012. In fact, there's not even a set air date yet, which should tell you something about how much work is yet to be done on the series. As it turns out, creating different versions of these shows for audiences in different countries is commonplace. The deals behind these co-productions are complicated, but, simply put, the BBC and Discovery Channel share footage - as well as the stories and messages that go with that footage - but always edit their own versions, including using different narrators.
Frozen Planet is being produced the same way. Much has been made of Discovery not using the wonderfully British David Attenborough for the narration, but that happens almost every time Discovery announces one of these programs - different narrators are used in several different versions of the programs shown across the world. Regarding the narrator for all episodes of the US version of Frozen Planet, Discovery has not announced anyone as of yet (*) -- another indicator that this is not a repudiation of Attenborough, but rather a production decision for the series.
As for the differences in specific episodes, there simply aren't (and never were) pre-determined episodes that both the BBC and Discovery were airing, so it's just not true that Discovery is only airing six and leaving out a whole seventh episode. In fact, when I was digging around for links about this program, I happened across a press release from 2008, when the project was first announced, which said the series would be eight parts. I asked about that and why it was now six instead of eight and was told it just has to do with the amount of footage they got. I guess when your actors are wild animals in extreme environments, you really just have to go with what you get. So it's not going to be eight episodes as originally planned.
Regarding the much-discussed seventh episode airing on the BBC, Discovery Channel says that there are a lot of programing decisions still to be made, but divulged that even if the footage is cut to be six episodes, as planned in the US, the essence of the BBC's seven episodes will be represented throughout the US version of the series. In other words, the reality of climate change will be present throughout the entire series.
So, that's what we know. We'll update you when we have more info in a few weeks. We'll be curious to watch the final result when it airs here in the US, because controversy or not, these BBC/Discovery programs are always awe-inspiring and help make people understand and appreciate the interconnectedness and beauty of nature and are some of the best TV out there. And no, I'm not being told to say that. It's just truth. Seriously. Look at the clips below.
And since we still have a few months left before the US version of Frozen Planet airs, how about we watch some badass clips of sharks jumping, bird dancing and other wonderful things?
*UPDATE: Alec Baldwin will narrate the series.
UPDATE II - 12/6/11: According to the Associated Press, Discovery will be airing the much-discussed Attenborough special on climate change. Yah!
Here's the full announcement from Discovery:
DISCOVERY CHANNEL ANNOUNCES MARCH 18 PREMIERE DATE FOR FROZEN PLANET
From the Makers of PLANET EARTH, Epic Natural History Series Narrated by Alec Baldwin
(Los Angeles, Ca., December 6, 2011) – Discovery Channel announces today that FROZEN PLANET, the seven-part series from the acclaimed documentary team behind PLANET EARTH, will premiere in the United States on Sunday, March 18 from 8-10PM, ET/PT, and air on subsequent Sundays at 8PM ET/PT. A Discovery Channel/BBC co-production four years in the making, FROZEN PLANET will be narrated by award-winning actor Alec Baldwin.
FROZEN PLANET will provide the ultimate portrait of our earth’s polar regions, where the scale and beauty of the scenery and sheer power of the natural elements are unlike anywhere else on the planet. To capture nature’s majestic power – as well as its ultimate fragility – FROZEN PLANET’s filmmakers utilized the latest cinematographic techniques and technology to capture groundbreaking imagery both above and below the ice in some of the most extreme and remote regions of our planet. The series’ seventh episode, hosted on camera by British naturalist David Attenborough, will investigate what rising temperatures will mean for the people and wildlife that live there – and for the rest of the planet.