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May 20, 2020

Animal Attraction

With its never-before-seen images — shot over two years around the world — a BBC America docuseries is enthralling viewers and, perhaps, changing minds.

Michele Shapiro
  • Series narrator Sir David Attenborough had never seen a blue-faced monkey before filming the Asia episode of Seven Worlds, One Planet.

    BBC America/BBC Studios
  • Young penguins in Antarctica make their first pilgrimage to the ocean — where leopard seals await. “It’s a dramatic sequence, like a car chase in a movie,” says executive producer Jonny Keeling.

    BBC America/BBC Studios
  • Two female northern white rhinos in Africa are the last of their kind, unless an attempt at in vitro fertilization is successful.

    BBC America/BBC Studios
  • A spiky lizard known as the thorny devil keeps an eye out for predators in Australia.

    BBC America/BBC Studios
  • A baby monkey in Gibraltar reunites with its parents after a kidnapping.

    BBC America/BBC Studios

After 23 years with the natural history unit at BBC studios, you'd think Jonny Keeling would have witnessed every imaginable animal behavior.

But when describing a sequence from Seven Worlds, One Planet, the executive producer's excitement is palpable.

"We filmed polar bears awaiting the arrival of Beluga whales in North America so they could pounce on them. You get to see [the bears'] exact strategy as they try to outsmart some of the cleverest creatures on the planet."

The camera crew relied on the latest technologies, in this case 30-pound drones, to capture many encounters that had never before been documented.

Shot over a two-year period, Seven Worlds not only reveals how each continent has shaped its own unique animal population, but also the challenges animals face in a modern world.

When selecting stories from a mind-boggling 92 shoots in 41 countries, Keeling looked for sequences that were both emotionally engaging and dramatic. Variety was also key. "You want to have balance in the episode," he says. "Not 10 sequences on predation or mothers caring for their young."

As for managing such a massive undertaking, Keeling notes, "It boils down to two things: you need to be really stubborn and determined, but you also need the sensitivity of an angel, because you're trying to tell emotional stories."

Narrated by world-renowned natural-history filmmaker Sir David Attenborough, each episode includes conservation stories that Keeling believes make the series feel "relevant and contemporary."

He hopes the devastating story of the last two remaining northern white rhinos in Africa (both females), along with more uplifting narratives about species that faced extinction but are now repopulating, will move the series' billion or so viewers worldwide to take action.

"I want them to watch and think you can do something. It doesn't take a big sacrifice."

For more beautiful photography from the BBC, pick up a copy of emmy magazine.

Seven Worlds, One Planet is available on demand across all major digital platforms, on the BBC America app and at

This article originally appeared in its entirety in emmy magazine, Issue No. 4, 2020

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