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Simon Fuller on ‘Serengeti,’ His ‘Genre-Busting’ Move into Wildlife TV

Simon Fuller is best known as a pop Svengali and as the creator of global TV hit “Idol.” But he’s striking a different note with “Serengeti,” his move into wildlife TV. “I didn’t set out to change the wildlife genre, but big ideas connecting to an audience and telling stories in different ways can become genre-busting, and that excites me,” Fuller told Variety.

His XIX Entertainment shingle is making the series for the BBC, and it will meld drama storytelling techniques with classic natural-history TV. John Downer, who pushed the wildlife filmmaking envelope with “Spy in the Wild,” in which animatronic spy creatures with hidden cameras were used to get an inside view into animal behavior, is also producing through his John Downer Productions banner.

Shooting in the titular African region, the six-part series weaves together multiple animals’ storylines to bring their real-life stories to screen. The idea for the series came through Fuller’s work with animal charities and a fact-finding trip he took to the Serengeti, during which, he said, he realized a lot of wildlife issues were born of a lack of human empathy with animals.

Fuller spied an opportunity to connect viewers with wildlife in a new way. “I have noticed a growing audience for factual television,” he said. “People are having a greater interest in our planet and a growing passion for animals. I saw this as a perfect opportunity to create a new type of television show – an opportunity for the viewer to relate to a subject I know they will love in a new, connective and empathetic way.”

Production involved multiple cameras and drones. The series was filmed in UHD, and there will also be 360-degree footage. Animal stories featured include those of warthogs, lions, mongeese, and cheetahs.

The BBC air-date for “Serengeti” has not yet been set. BBC Worldwide, meanwhile, is pre-selling the series, and Fuller and Downer were at the its recent Showcase sales event in Liverpool speaking to international buyers. “It allowed me the opportunity to experiment and take all of the techniques I’ve been working on and taking them much further than ever,” Downer said in a Showcase presentation.

He added: “There is a way of telling stories and it’s narrative-driven and with the voice of David Attenborough, which is wonderful. But it’s not the only way to tell natural history stories, and we wanted to look at another way.”

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