A jam-packed reservoir of eco-friendly programs are in the works for the coming year, as broadcast and cable nets tap into the growing environmental drumbeat.
At ABC, feature star Leonardo DiCaprio has pacted with Madison Road Entertainment and reality producer Craig Piligian to develop “E-Topia,” which aims to rebuild a down-and-out town into an eco-friendly community.
Not to be outdone, Academy Award winner Matt Damon has hosted PBS’ “Journey to Planet Earth,” a science and nature series devoted to the environment. (The next edition of “Journey,” titled “State of the Ocean’s Animals,” will air in March.)
On cable, the Weather Channel, which has always chronicled Mother Nature, launched a broadband channel this summer focusing on issues related to climate change. Climatologist Heidi Cullen, who heads the broadband channel, also hosts the new on-air series “The Climate Code,” which tackles global warming.
“The fact we’re bringing this stuff to our audience means it has become pretty mainstream,” Cullen says. “But it still has a way to go.”
Cullen says her show has to regularly walk the line between educating nonbelievers on global warming and highlighting solutions to viewers who already know what’s going on and are hungry for ways to help.
“It’s gotten easier in some respects because of major weather events like Hurricane Katrina,” she says, “but we get plenty of feedback from viewers who say, ‘We’re loyal Weather Channel viewers and we’re disappointed that you’re moving into the political arena.’ We try to show people that this isn’t a political issue.”
Meanwhile, ambitious plans are afoot at the Sundance Channel, which has created an entire programming block devoted to environmentally conscious programming. The lineup has been branded “Sundance Channel Green.”
Laura Michalchyshyn, exec VP and G.M. of programming and creative affairs at Sundance, says the timing was right to give the channel a larger green presence.
“I think the issue of environmental sustainability and friendly eco-living has hit a crisis point,” she says. “Look at the feature films, the documentaries, the TV specials. It’s no longer a small issue.”
Michalchyshyn says Sundance always has aired a steady stream of environment-focused documentaries, and she points to Sundance founder Robert Redford, who has been a green activist for decades, as a guiding force.
“After many years of putting these documentaries on the schedule without heralding a location, we’re giving it its own block on the schedule,” she says. “And it’s consistent with the Sundance brand.”
The Green block will launch April 17, to coincide with Earth Day. Beyond new and old docs from the U.S. and beyond, it will include a 13-episode original series, tentatively titled “Change Agents,” from “Queer Eye” producer Scout Prods. Series will focus on designers, products and regular people who are creating different ways to live their lives in a more eco-friendly way.
Of course, eco-friendly programming must still move past the stigma that it’s TV’s equivalent of vegetables: It may be good for you, but it’s not particularly entertaining.
The goal, Michalchyshyn says, is to make the programming “fun and lighthearted” as well as informative. “It has some levity,” she says.
Michalchyshyn also says Sundance is looking to move beyond programming that focuses just on the gloom-and-doom of global climate change. “People are interested in solution-based programming now, not just apocalyptic storytelling,” she says. “They want to know, ‘How can we make positive changes?’ “