The discovery of Steve Fossett’s belongings in the California mountains led a quick-thinking producer to a hasty pact for a Discovery Channel docu special on the missing billionaire explorer.
LMNO Prods. was finishing up production in Mammoth Lakes on an upcoming Animal Planet series when execs heard of a hiker’s discovery in the nearby forest.
Day hiker Preston Morrow had come across an FAA license, $1,000 in cash and a glider’s license, among other items. Sensing the belongings might be Fossett’s, Morrow told a sporting goods store owner of his discovery — and they grabbed a group of people from the small mountain town to head back to the site.
Among those asked to make the hike: Steve Searles, star of the show LMNO had been shooting all summer, “The Bear Whisperer.” An LMNO cameraman was invited to tag along as Morrow, Searles and others hiked the steep terrain back to where Morrow had found the items.
But before its cameraman left, LMNO topper Eric Schotz made a quick call to the Discovery Channel — and in moments had secured a deal to document the find for a new special, “Steve Fossett: What Went Wrong.”
“He called me fairly quickly and said, ‘I’ve got something here,’ ” said Discovery Channel prexy-g.m. John Ford. “He told me what had happened and we said, ‘Good, let’s go with the footage and we’ll make a show.’ We haven’t even figured out what that show is yet, but Eric’s great in uncovering the story behind the story and telling it well.”
Ford said “Steve Fossett: What Went Wrong” will be fast-tracked and could air as soon as seven to eight weeks from now.
Coincidentally, LMNO had earlier been tracking the story of Fossett, the world record-setting adventurer who disappeared while flying last year. But LMNO eventually abandoned plans to put together a documentary after hitting several dead ends.
“Timing’s everything,” Schotz said. “The odds of this happening are quite unusual.”
Meanwhile, LMNO’s cameraman shot at least four hours’ worth of footage as Morrow and others climbed back to the site and fanned out, discovering more of Fossett’s belongings, including a black sweatshirt. They alerted the authorities the next morning, and an aerial search spotted the wreckage of Fossett’s plane.
Word eventually leaked of the discovery — and the fact that it had been documented by cameras.
As a result, LMNO was busy Thursday licensing footage of the Fossett site, and shots of the items found, to news orgs around the globe.
“We got footage all over the place, but we kept quite a bit back for our documentary,” Schotz said. “This is a case of something transitioning from entertainment to news.”