This story on “Planet Earth II” first appeared in the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.
The list of programs that landed the most Emmy nominations is a pretty predictable one: “Saturday Night Live” and “Westworld” on top, followed by “Feud: Bette and Joan” and “Stranger Things,” “Veep,” “Big Little Lies,” “Fargo,” “The Crown,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “The Night Of,” “This Is Us,” “Planet Earth II” …
Wait. “Planet Earth II?” Yep, the nature series on BBC America landed 10 nominations to tie with “Genius” and “Silicon Valley” as the 12th most nominated show, and the top nonscripted, nonfiction show in the eyes of Emmy voters.
And if that surprises you, don’t worry: It also surprised Mike Gunton, the creator and executive producer of the David Attenborough-narrated nature series that explores animal habitats around the globe in gloriously intimate high-def.
“We’re 6,000 miles away and quite detached from the impact we’ve had in America,” Gunton said, “and the way the Academy members have taken to it is gratifying and surprising.”
The show, he said, was helped by the fact that camera technology made it possible for “Planet Earth II,” which followed the original “Planet Earth” series by 10 years, to get closer than ever to the habitats it chronicles. “Often you have an idea or an ambition which coincides with some technological advances which fortuitously come into the sphere at the right time,” he said.
“We wanted to change the perspective. The first series had an epic, awe-inspiring, godlike view of the world, but we wanted to change that and see the world through the eyes of the animals. That’s not easy to portray, but technological advances helped us because of the miniaturization of cameras, the ability to get them off the tripod and down with the animals.”
Of course, when you’re making a series about life on this planet in the 21st century, there’s an elephant in the room even when you aren’t filming on the African veldt. “You can’t redo ‘Planet Earth’ without acknowledging the human impact on the planet,” he said.
“Without derailing the tone and ethos of the first ‘Planet Earth,’ which was about wonder and celebration, we also needed to find ways of bringing in this other context. So each episode we have at least one story about a twist that humans have caused. For example, in the first episode it was about invasive species.
“And then combined with that, we also felt that we couldn’t ignore that there is another habitat on the planet: the human habitat. That’s why we did a show on the city – it was a new perspective, but it really lent itself to the approach we adopted.”
Doing the second series a full decade after the first, he admitted, could also be a troubling experience. “More and more, you come back from a shoot feeling that things are changing fast,” he said. “You used to find places on the planet that had been untouched. That’s so much harder to find now. Quite a lot of the crew members would tell us they had to drive through miles of oil plantations to get to the spot where we could shoot, or they’d see huge urban sprawl. That is quite sobering.”
Read more from TheWrap Emmy Magazine’s Down to the Wire issue.