Animal Planet moves into edgier, compelling territory with Whale Wars, Grizzly Man Diaries

Animal Planet’s recent efforts to rebrand have produced series like Groomer Has It which, well, didn’t really have it. But a slate of new series they announced today in Los Angeles makes the network seem like it’s getting serious and will become a major cable contender, if the shows live up to their descriptions and previews.

Among them are an eight-episode series called The Grizzly Man Diaries, a “prequel” to the fascinating documentary Grizzly Man that “will draw upon the hundreds of hours of archived footage, private pages from [Timothy Treadwell's] diaries and more than 10,000 still photographs,” according to the network. It debuts August 22.

There are also two new series from Laguna Beach producers Go Go Luckey: Creature, a fall show that is “a first-person, immersive experience of encounters with bizarre animals that science is reluctant to recognize,” and Jockeys, a 12-episode January 2009 series that follows those who ride horses for a living. There’s also Mr. and Mrs. Wolf, an October series that follows a man who “has been sleeping, eating and brawling with a pack of captive wolves” and now works to integrate his fiancee into that group.

But what looks most exciting to me is Whale Wars, the previously announced series that follows a group of people who spend three and a half months on a ship trying to stop Japanese whalers.

The trailer shown to critics included footage of the crew of the Sea Shepherd talking about how they’re “peaceful,” and then lobbing tear gas onto a Japanese vessel–and getting shot at and, in one case, actually hit. Even the trailer suggested a complex yet compelling series, following a likable group of people who are clearly committed to a noble cause yet behave in somewhat appalling ways. One woman says on the radio, “The whales need you to get serious and pull your head out of your ass,” while another crew member references the book Dirty Japanese.

The captain, Paul Watson, told critics about two politicians who changed their minds about their efforts who now recognize that the crew’s work “is the only way we’re going to save the whales because governments and diplomacy have failed completely.” The show’s producer and camera operator, Ashley Dunn, said this morning that it’s a “warts and all representation of what happens on the ship” and “serious, serious confrontation.” Unlike most reality TV confrontation, though, this has actual consequence.

Frankie leads Big Brother's parade of delusion

Frankie on Big Brother

Heading into the finale, the delusion continues, with a re-appearance by evicted Frankie.

Related: The unwatchable cast of Fox's Utopia keeps yelling and screaming.


Shark Tank is getting a spin-off

Shark Tank

Companies that get deals on the show will be followed for this new spin-off.

Also: Before the show began, Shark Barbara Corcoran was cast and then replaced--but then she sent this amazing e-mail and won the job.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.