The first few minutes of any TV show often sets the tone for the entire series, and the BBC’s latest David Attenborough epic, The Green Planet, is no different. As a vine tendril is shown strangling a monstera in excruciating detail, viewers are quickly made aware that the series is no twee jaunt through the woodlands.
“That was what we were trying to do: to bring the drama. Yes, spectacle. Yes, surprise. Yes, beauty. But could we deliver drama?” says Mike Gunton, the creative director and executive producer of the Natural History Unit, the arm of BBC Studios responsible for countless wildlife programmes – including Attenborough’s ground-breaking Life on Earth series from 1979, and the many award-winning documentaries presented by him since then.
When The Green Planet premiered at Cop26 in the autumn, it garnered the response they were looking for in viewers. “Mike and I were there, and David was there, and it was that audible gasp from the audience where I think we all got really excited by [the fact] it was plants making people get to the edge of their seats,” says producer Paul Williams, who produced two of the episodes and played a key part in sourcing and developing the new technology that underpinned the entire show.
The series, which saw Attenborough return to the field (and lake, and rainforest) for the first time in nearly 15 years, takes place across five ‘worlds’: tropical, water, seasonal, desert, and human. The crucial difference is that these worlds are shown from a plant’s eye view, requiring the team to adapt to an entirely new perspective and pace. Doing so opens the programme up to stories told by individual plant protagonists, which deploy intricate strategies to reproduce, communicate and survive.