It’s pretty clear already that Alaskans are going crazy for the new PBS three-night series Wild Alaska Live. Based in Juneau but featuring teams of correspondents on the ground at several Alaska locations, the series follows the naturally-occurring event of Alaska’s annual salmon run, stretching viewers’ beliefs and perceptions about not only Alaska, but the cycles of our planet as well.
With the endearing faces of Chris and Martin Kratt, famous brothers from the show Wild Kratts as anchors and hosts, Alaska immediately takes center stage in a cool way as the guys, along with two correspondents in places like Katmai National Park and Preserve, dig deep into the daily life of Last Frontier critters. And it’s WILD.
I had the chance to talk with Bill Gardner, PBS co-master and VP of Programming for this three-part series that aired Episode 1 last night, to discuss the overarching themes of the program, taking into account that thousands of Alaska kids would be watching and dissecting every single fact. Here’s what he had to say.
On the theme of a salmon run: “We were looking for a predictable, natural moment in time, but in a bigger, bolder way. Salmon return to Alaska every year, and the explosion of nature around this one thing is incredible. It’s where wildlife, people, environment, and industry connect, and we wanted to show the world.”
On the set-up: “Our headquarters is here in Juneau, out at Mendenhall Glacier. Correspondents Liz Bonnin and Steve Backshall are in places like Katmai and Kodiak, checking in with updates from live-time action and the communities nearby.” (It must be noted that when I talked to Juneau production manager Ellen Stanley about the whole thing, her description was incredible. Conexes, a yurt, tent, and huge trucks and lines snaking down toward the beach of Mendenhall.)
On the potential positive impact of the series: “We went live because real-time is a mechanism to show the facts of a particular moment in time. And not just in Alaska. We’re hoping that a show like this will built affinity for one’s own home and make people realize that just outside in their own backyards, there are wild things happening. That’s how you build community among the planet’s people.”
On the Kratts: “Certainly, having Chris and Martin as anchors to the series creates an attraction for younger viewers. Both of them know their presence may help spark conversation among entire families, and creating a series that appeals to both the kids and parents is a vehicle toward getting out and exploring together – wherever you live.” Families should also note that the Wild Kratts are premiering their own episode about the experience, called “A Hero’s Journey” TODAY, July 24. Check your local listing and let us know what you think.
On what surprised the team about Alaska (and Bill, especially): “Alaska is beautiful (and he said this without an ounce of triteness). The way wildlife is integrated into the human presence is incredible. And the reality of that existence — the smell of the sea, seeing the bear sign, and connecting to each every single day. You really are lucky.”
On what viewers should take away: “Use our experiences here in Alaska in your own community. Walk out the door to the backyard and find the wild. Look and listen and discover how things connect. Alaska is not the only wild place….our cities, towns, urban areas are too. Adults should watch with kids to provide discussion outlets for the real life taking place; as a live event, it’s unscripted and full of opportunities to start understanding more this world in which we live.”
The series is being shown in three parts the first aired Sunday, and will continue on the 26th. Each is 60 minutes and features critters like whales, bears, walrus, bald eagles, and…people. Find the backstory HERE. Kids will also love playing the games that teach even more about the wild, amazing life up here in the Last Frontier.