As for the show itself, the producers are trying a different technique this year to ensure the best, most compelling sequences possible. They sent crews out weeks ahead -- tracking down a wolfpack with young, playful pups and a small female grizzly bear they've nicknamed "Mini Mom" and her cubs -- to shoot what's been happening around the park. That way, if any of the four camera locations or the roving helicopters they've set up to scour the 22 million acres of the park don't turn up anything in the hour the show is live, they've got insurance with recent scenes from around the park. With only four hours of TV time, they'll end up with around 120 hours of unaired footage left on the cutting room floor.
And even though these crews are shooting all through the week, turning around footage they might have captured in early morning or overnight with their new long-range, military-grade thermal camera, by Friday its clear that their prep time has already paid off in droves, resulting in shots of elk calves, marmot pups, badger cubs, fox kits, bison calves, etc., etc., etc.
"I know this sounds like sacrilege, but do we have too many babies?" Smith quipped in a production meeting.
The answer is probably not. In the first episode, a battle raged during a 90-second commercial break when the show prompted viewers, Do you want to see baby marmots or baby pronghorn next?, turning a tented room of mild-mannered journalists into chanting buffoons for their baby animal of choice. (The baby marmot rightfully won; the marmot herd cheered.) "Your eyes are going to get cavities watching that stuff," Josh Elliott warned us on Friday. Even Chris Packham, the show's failsafe should everything go to shit -- he could do "10 compelling minutes on a blade of grass," according to Elliott -- and a notorious biological straight shooter couldn't deny the effect of seeing 2-week-old beavers Emmy-winning cinematographer Jeff Hogan found after carefully threading noninvasive infrared cameras into a lodge: "I don't like the word, but they're undeniably cute."