An edited version of this story about “Our Planet” first appeared in the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.
A total of 12 television programs reached double digits in nominations this year, starting with “Game of Thrones” and continuing with a lot of the ones that were expected to do well: “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Chernobyl,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Barry,” “Fosse/Verdon,” “When They See Us,” “Russian Doll,” “Escape at Dannemora,” “Fleabag,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Our Planet” …
Wait. “Our Planet?” What’s a British nature show doing on the list of most-recognized shows, with 10 nominations, beating every other nonfiction program and also topping the likes of “Better Call Saul,” “Killing Eve,” “Ozark,” “This Is Us” and even “Veep” in total nominations?
It’s dominating, that’s what, scoring nominations not just for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series but also one for narrator David Attenborough, one for writing, two for music, two for sound and three for its spectacular cinematography capturing animals in their natural habitats around the world and under the sea.
“We were surprised — overjoyed and surprised,” said Keith Scholey, who produces the Netflix show with Alastair Fothergill in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund. “You don’t normally expect that to happen, but what is even more fantastic for us is that it was spread across the whole team.
“And it was a real joy to get the three cinematography nominations. In natural-history filmmaking, you live and die by the skill of your cinematographers. It’s not just what they capture, it’s their understanding of the natural world and the huge efforts they go to to get those shots, often putting themselves in danger.”
All this for a series that had a simple but substantial goal. “We wanted to make a difference,” he said. “We, and especially Alastair, have made some of the biggest landmarks in natural-history filmmaking, but we looked at each other and said, ‘Yeah, the audience really loved them, but have we changed things? Have we changed the mood toward conservation?’ So we set out to try and do that, to communicate to the audience that the world is in difficulty.”
The season’s most notable sequences range from an elaborately choreographed, never-before-photographed mating dance by a bird of paradise to an underwater feeding frenzy in which a huge school of fish (a “bait ball,” in natural-history lingo) is attacked from above by birds and from below by dolphins.
“I often say that making television for the natural-history audience is like having a blackmailer,” Scholey said. “You dish up your very, very best and they say, ‘Yeah, we love that — now let’s have a bit more.’ That’s the name of the game: We have to show things that the audience hasn’t experienced.”
The result delves into issues like deforestation and the loss of species, and inevitably touches on the dangerous effects of climate change. “We tried to get the balance right, but we took some risks,” Scholey said. “In natural-history filmmaking, the old rule was, ‘Oh, you’d better have a happy ending.’ But our ‘Frozen Worlds’ episode, about life on the poles, doesn’t have a happy ending, because there isn’t one there. Our policy was to speak for wildlife, for the natural world, and to be honest with the audience.”
Read more of the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.