Monterey Bay is a marine ecosystem like no other.Teeming with krill, fish and other creatures, the bay plays host to hundreds of marine mammals which visit the waters each year in search of food.
Documenting the migration is a big job for any scientific organization but the British Broadcasting Corporation is making a brave attempt to do that in a three part television series, “Big Blue Live” running August 31-Sept. 1 on local Public Broadcasting System stations. Episodes are shown from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. eastern and pacific time.
Using the latest in live broadcast technology, the BBC team has staged a kind of aquatic extravaganza for viewing by American and British audiences. And while there is much good scientific information in the series, the production contains so much hype and over-the- top commentary that it often resembles a comic satire. That’s unfortunate because the BBC is known for top quality wildlife shows including David Attenborough’s “Planet Earth.”
The concept is good. Mix a live broadcast with video clips to describe the animals and how they live in the bay. Team up with the Monterey Bay Aquarium whose scientists will be interviewed about the wildlife and their habits.
But as soon as the broadcast starts, the production gets into trouble. Monday’s live segment featured journalist Liz Bonnin speaking from a dark platform outside the aquarium with periodic cut away shots of the bay showing only dark water punctuated by dim colored lights in the distance.
Cut to staff member Steve Backshall, racing across the bay in a boat in search of sea creatures to praise.“This is the big blue,” he says “the largest body of water on the planet.” Does he mean the bay or the Pacific Ocean? Whatever.
Backshall goes into fits of ecstasy when he spots a blue whale and describes it as if he has just seen David Beckham win the World Cup for England. Back to Bonnin at the aquarium who is interviewing a researcher about sea otters. The conversation is so short, it seems more like a sound bite than an interview.
The one saving grace is M. Sanjayan, a dedicated conservationist and host of “EARTH a New Wild” shown on the Public Broadcast System earlier this year.
Like known astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and Tyson’s mentor Carl Sagan, Sanjayan has the ability to put complex scientific concepts into language the viewers can understand. His prerecorded videos are the best thing in the show and the producers would have been better off combining these segments into a single coherent narrative. Instead what we get is a constantly changing collection of scenes that is short on focus but long on superlatives delivered by people with heavy British accents.
The show, frankly is designed more for an overseas audience than ecologically conscious Californians who are conversant with the bay and its inhabitants.
But in the end, the BBS folks deserve an E for effort. Science shows that inform the public and spur viewers to take action on behalf of wildlife are vital to the work of researchers who work to save delicate systems like Monterey Bay.
“Big Blue Live” tries to get that point across. But it hits the target only part of the time.