Phil Keoghan is visiting six continents in only two hours for his next television gig, but this time, he’ll do that with a co-host, Hollywood Game Night’s Jane Lynch, and from a studio in New York City.
National Geographic Channel’s Earth Live (Sunday at 8 p.m. ET) will visit 25 locations in 15 countries on six continents, with more than 50 cameras capturing action live during those two hours. It’s an ambitious undertaking, to say the least.
“If you think about it, so many wildlife shows take years to come together,” Phil Keoghan told me, “We have a two-hour window, crossing around the world, dropping in on the world’s greatest wildlife with leading authorities on those animals, and explorers and cinematographers, with our fingers crossed that the animals are as excited about being a part of this show as we are.”
It’s about as nuts of an idea as filming a reality competition that goes around the world, but that’s what attracted The Amazing Race host to this special. (I asked when Amazing Race 20 would start filming, and he told me: “We’ll be doing that after the summer.”)
“I love being a part of things that are new, different, and bold, and certainly Amazing Race was one of those things. It was a bold endeavor when we first set out to do that show,” Phil said.
“I love live television, and I love the audacity of what National Geographic is trying to do. It’s a very bold endeavor. The logistics of pulling this together are quite extraordinary. There’s a world-class team of people who are putting this together. And also a chance to work with with Jane, who I have a lot of respect for, and who’ve I met a few times … and she just seems like a lot of fun.”
While there will be some technical rehearsal and blocking for the in-studio hosts, and while there is obviously a lot of planning on the production’s part, what happens during those two hours will depend largely on wildlife.
“We are going into this knowing that this is live TV and we are working with animals, so the show will be very fluid,” Phil said, so “we just don’t know. What happens if we check into some sharks in Fiji and there’s a feeding frenzy going on? We’re going to want to be apart of that.”
“We’ll be jumping around based on what is going on in that moment,” he added, and “if we’re in one location and something great is hapening in another, it could be when it rains it pours.”
Phil Keoghan on TV’s risk-taking
“Life is too short to be playing everything safe,” Phil said during our interview, and that works as both a personal mantra and a lesson for television (and, I might add, reality TV in particular, which is in somewhat of a safe rut right now).
“I love to be involved in project where people take some risks, and that’s why I always enjoyed the challenge of being part of Amazing Race,” Phil told me as we talked about the similarities between his CBS show and this National Geographic Channel special.
“Even this documentary my wife and I just finished, it was a huge risk. It wasn’t a documentary that you could go and get funding for,” he said. He was referring to Le Ride, in which Phil recreates the 1928 Tour de France, riding 3,500 miles in 26 days. (The film is in theatres and you can bring it to your town through Demand Film.)
In television, Phil told me, “People tend to make choices that don’t deviate too far from standard operating procedure. They tend to see something work, and then they think, Well, the safe choice is to do something that’s very close to something that’s worked, to not deviate too much, because then we reduce our risks.”
“The problem with that is then you reduce your chances of doing something new and different, and new and different is what ultimately becomes groundbreaking and changing. The risk is, of course, higher, because you don’t know how people are going to respond to new and different,” he added.
“But it’s only the mavericks in the world who are prepared to throw the ball downfield for the Hail Mary pass, that create amazing, new, and different things. We’ve got too many people who are making the one-yard gains with the little passes because they’re safer passes. And yeah, you might be able to slowly make your way down the field, but not in a groundbreaking way,” Phil said.
This Sunday on Earth Live, “there’s a lot that can go wrong and there’s a lot that can go right,” Phil said, “and that’s what makes live television—and attempting something of this magnitude—so exciting.”