Ireland’s Wild River Is An Example Of A Wildlife Documentary Done Right

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Ireland’s Wild River is one of the most enjoyable episodes of PBS’ beloved wildlife series Nature to come along in quite a while. This episode of Nature is such a joy first and foremost because of its approach. There is quite a bit to note on that matter alone. Another reason that audiences will enjoy this episode of Nature thanks to the beautiful cinematography. That plays directly into the episode’s approach. One more reason that viewers will enjoy this episode of Nature is its editing. Much like the cinematography, the editing plays directly in to the episode’s overall approach. All three factors together make this episode of Nature one that any viewer should see at least once.

PBS’ Nature has been a hit with viewers for years. That is because of its general approach. It has typically stayed as far as possible from all of the wildlife shows that are based more on personalities (whether on camera or off) than on the animals. Because they focus more on personalities, those same shows take more of an intrusive approach than Nature for lack of better wording. While this episode of Nature actually does have a host of sorts in Colin Stafford-Johnson, he is not the center of attention. Nor does he show any interest in taking center stage. The only time that he is shown is occasionally as he paddles (yes, paddles) along the Shannon. Even his own narration is apart from that of hosts of other wildlife program. That makes this episode even more enjoyable for true nature lovers. His narration isn’t the same high energy approach of so many nature show hosts. Much like the cinematography and companion editing of this episode, Stafford-Johnson’s own narration is low-key and non-intrusive. He takes the angle more of a full-on observer than the standard host that goes in and grabs everything in sight, trying to stay in the camera. It’s one part of the episode’s approach that makes the episode such a joy.

Host Colin Stafford-Johnson’s hands off, observer style approach to Ireland’s Wild River is just one part of what makes this episode of Nature so enjoyable for lovers of any wildlife programming on television. Another, more subtle aspect of the episode’s approach that makes it so enjoyable is in how Stafford-Johnson made his way along the Shannon River. Whereas shows like River Monsters and others are so quick to use motorized boats because they make the show more “sexy” for viewers, Stafford-Johnson gently paddles along in a canoe. It’s a nice change of pace. It shows that Stafford-Johnson isn’t trying to present that same spit-shined, “sexy” appearance of those other shows. And it shows a true reverence for the wildlife along the river, too. He is showing that he doesn’t want to do anything to disturb the wildlife. This is such a welcome alternative to what audiences are accustomed to seeing from nature shows. It makes the episode’s overall approach all the more entertaining for audiences.

The approach taken by Stafford-Johnson and those responsible for the final product here resulted in what is one of the series’ best episodes so far in 2014. That work is not all that makes this episode so enjoyable. Just as important to the overall enjoyment factor is the combined cinematography and editing used for the final product. The shots of Stafford-Johnson paddling gently along the river, and sitting in his canoe among the reeds create such a sense of serenity. There are no overdone pans setting him against the backdrop of the river or other unnecessary flourishes. It’s just straight forward camera work. In terms of flourishes, audiences will like the high speed photography capturing in flight, the many birds that populate the Shannon. Even here, it isn’t overdone. This effect is used just enough to add a little extra “oomph” to the program. And the editing used to transition from one bird to the next adds even more of that feeling.   Just as worth noting is one specific moment in which a shot of a bird on a reed fades to a show of Stafford-Johnson’s silhouette against the setting sun in the sky. Given, it’s a standard edit effect. But it’s the only time that audiences see this effect used, too. Simply put the editing and cinematography are minimized just as much as Stafford-Johnson’s time on camera. There’s no over the top anything here. Everything is balanced just right throughout the course of the program. In the end it’s that balance makes Ireland’s Wild River one of the best episodes of PBS’ Nature yet.

Ireland’s Wild River is available now on DVD. It can be ordered direct from PBS’ online store at More information on this and other episodes of Nature is available online at and To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at

Weird Creatures Is Weird, Wild Fun

Courtesy:  PBS/itv

Courtesy: PBS/itv

Everybody knows the names of Steve Irwin and Jack Hanna.  Now nature lovers can add one more name to the list of famed nature show hosts.  That man’s name is Nick Baker.  This young Brit hosts his own show on Britain’s itv called Weird Creatures with Nick Baker.  One part Wild Kratts and one part Crocodile Hunter, this series is aimed at much the same audiences as those shows.  So the question is what sets this series apart from its contemporaries?  The primary aspect of Weird Creatures with Nick Baker that sets it apart is that host Nick Baker comes across as being much more akin to Ghost Adventures host Zak Bagans than Hanna or Irwin in terms of his personality.  That is likely because of his seemingly young age.  Also worthy of note in this series is that unlike other nature series, episodes aren’t cut even if Baker and company don’t find the creature for which they are searching.  Regardless of whether or not their intended “target” is found, Baker and company still discuss other creatures that are discovered along the way.  So audiences are still introduced to any number of animals throughout each episode.  Lastly, audiences will appreciate from Weird Creatures with Nick Baker the fact that instead of just showing footage of country’s from which given animals originate, he and his crew actually travel to said regions.  The manifest function here is that not only are audiences treated to animals that they had never known about, they also get a glimpse of different regions of the world due to Baker’s globe hopping.  All of these factors and others show why this nature series stands out as one that today’s younger viewers will love to watch.

The first aspect of Weird Creatures with Nick Baker that audiences will appreciate in watching its first season (or “series” as it’s called by the Brits) is that while Baker obviously knows his stuff, he doesn’t try to be like contemporaries Jack Hanna and the late Steve Irwin.  Rather, he has his own “edge” about him so to speak.  He comes across as being looser about everything that he does than Hanna or Irwin.  He just doesn’t come across as being like Hanna or Irwin.  Even in his look, he will appeal more to younger viewers than to those that perhaps grew up watching those that came before him.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either.  That “edge” and younger look mixed in with an obvious love for and full understanding of his subjects could potentially influence younger viewers to take an interest in biology, zoology, and their associated sciences.  And what parent today could argue against their child or children gaining new interest in said subjects and careers? Exactly.  This is merely the starting point for what makes the show’s first season enjoyable.

Host Nick Baker’s peronsality, his look, and his love for and understanding of his subjects is the starting point for what makes the first season of his show enjoyable.  The adventures on which he and his crew embark are another part of what makes this first season enjoyable, too.  Just like Baker himself comes across as being unorthodox to a point, so do the episodes contained in Season One.  So many nature shows typically broadcast on American television feel spit-shined for lack of better wording.  Audiences are left feeling with American nature shows like their hosts magically find their “target “ animals in each episode.  And they seem so proper.  Weird Creatures with Nick Baker is the antithesis of said programs.  Even if Baker and company don’t find the animals for which they are searching, they still present to their viewers other animals that might not have ever been introduced to viewers.  And as in the case of the Pink Fairy Armadillo, this does indeed happen.  They never do find one in the wild.  But they are lucky enough to meet an Argentinian woman that keeps a stuffed Pink Fairy Armadillo in her home.   They almost don’t manage to find a Basking Shark, either in another episode.  But the weather and mother nature cooperate just enough to the point that they finally get to see one up close in said episode’s final minutes.  It’s nice to see this more “raw” feel from a nature show than something more spit shined and broadcast ready.

That Baker and his crew make the best of some difficult situations serves to make his show even more enjoyable when set next to his personality as a host.  There is still one last factor to look at that makes the show work, though.  That last factor is the exotic locales to which Baker and company travel for each episode of the show.  Again, one can’t help but compare Weird Creatures… to the likes of certain other nature based programs past and present in terms of its travel factor.  So many other nature based shows only present file footage of animals in their natural habitats.  And even the creature specific Animal Planet series River Monsters is limited in showing the areas to which its host travels.  This series on the other hand openly displays the regions to which the crew travels.  What they are doing is promoting interest in not only animals but in geography, and other natural sciences.  It does so much without even trying too hard.  And it is the final piece of Season One that makes it complete and complete fun for audiences.  It is available now and can be ordered direct from the PBS online store at  More information on this series is available online at To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Pick blog at

Safina’s New Series Is A Splash

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBSForget

The first season of PBS’ documentary series, Saving the Ocean with Carl Safina is a fitting release for anyone that has any interest in maritime sciences, conservation, and all things nautical.  Host Carl Safina takes viewers across the world’s oceans and rivers through the course of ten episodes showing the effect that mankind has had on the world’s sea-swelling animals.  The material contained within these ten episodes is hardly anything new.  Viewers are reminded once again through each one the damage that mankind has wrought on the world’s bodies of water.  But through it all, Safina and company do remind audiences that there is still hope thanks to devoted individuals leading the charge to protect the world’s oceans and its inhabitants.

The show’s first season takes viewers from the dry Baja desert to the turtle refuge of Trinidad and Tobago and points in between showing the impact that humans have had on the world’s waters.  Those impacts are both good and bad, as evidenced in episodes such as the two-part episode, ‘River of Kings’ and in ‘Trinidad’s Turtle Giants.’  The prior of the pair is a two-part episode showing how descendants of the Nisqually Indian Tribe are trying to help protect the salmon population and help it flourish in the Nisqually River. The episode explains how measures taken by the descendants of the tribe have re-opened marshland that was once dry and thus allowed the salmon population return to the region once more and spawn.  This has, in turn, had a positive impact on both the local Pacific Northwest region as well as the overall population of the different salmon species.  The latter of the episodes noted here shows how efforts by one woman in the island nation of Trinidad and Tobego helped to save the Leatherback Turtle population in her nation.  It was through her efforts that Leatherbacks became a protected species and as a result brought in far more money via tourism than hunting them ever had.  Some of the footage in this episode is not easy for some viewers.  This includes younger viewers.  So viewer discretion should be used here.  Kudos to Safina for even noting this within the episode, too.

While the episodes included in Season One of Saving The Ocean with Carl Safina could be argued to be beating the proverbial dead horse, that’s not a bad thing.  The world needs to be reminded of the dangers of mankind’s impact on what he should be protecting.  None of the episodes included in this double-disc set is overly preachy in its delivery of this message, either.  Rather, viewers are gently nudged and reminded that overfishing the world’s waters and general neglect can have a massively negative impact.  But there are still people providing hope without vigilante style methods.  Rather, Safina interviews academics and those most closely linked to the issues raised in each episode.  The lack of drama that certain other shows bring (I.E. Whale Wars) makes it all the more interesting to watch, believe it or not.

The lack of drama in each episode and the more real world look at the problems facing the world’s oceans and waterways makes each episode in the show’s first season all the more watchable and believable, too.  There is another factor that works into the show’s ability to reach its viewers.  That factor is the episode lengths.  Each episode contained on this two-disc set comes in at just under half an hour. To be more precise, each episode comes in at roughly twenty-five minutes.  Typically, such a short time is fitting for young audiences.  But adults have just as short an attention span in general.  So this makes for another positive to this set, especially considering the combination of the episodes’ lengths and the writing.  The two partner quite well along with the equally brilliant footage to complete the season’s positives and make each episode more worth viewing at least once.

Saving the Ocean Season One is available now and can be ordered online via PBS’ online shop at  After ordering the double-disc set, audiences can also go to the official PBS Facebook page to keep up with all of the latest news and more from PBS at or the official PBS website at

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Shelter Me Episode A Touching Tail…Er…Tale

Courtesy:  Virgil Films/Halo Purely For Pets/PBS

Courtesy: Virgil Films/Halo Purely For Pets/PBS

Thousands of animals end up in shelters across the country every year.  The reasons for this are as wide as the breeds of cats and dogs that end up being held at shelters.  People lose their jobs, have to move, or they simply run away from their homes.  In even worse cases, it’s because they have been taken from abusive owners.  Whatever the reason, these animals need loving homes.  So many shelter animals end up being euthanized because they don’t get adopted.  Virgil Films and Halo: Purely for Pets have partnered together in hopes of decreasing the number of animals euthanized each year and increase the number of shelter animals that find their forever homes instead in the new documentary, Shelter Me

Shelter Me is a heartwarming program that takes viewers into three different settings showing the value of shelter pets.  In hindsight, it’s less documentary and more advertisement for adopting shelter pets.  There is nothing wrong with this, either.  That is because so many shelters across the country are becoming overloaded with animals and underfunded.  That is, in sociological terms, what’s known as a negative correlation.  That’s not a good thing.  With any luck, this feature will help to turn that negative correlation into a positive one, and shelters will see an increase in both adoptions and funding.  It makes its argument through three examples of the value of shelter pets in society, starting with the dispelling of the reputation of Pit Bulls.  From there, it transitions into dogs that are made virtual inmates by their reputation to the impact of dogs on inmates themselves.  From there, it shows how the friendship between military men and women and service dogs can lead each others’ lives to turn around.  By the end of the feature, hopefully this feature will have convinced viewers of all ages and backgrounds to help give shelters and shelter dogs a second chance.

It is fitting that the very first segment of this feature features what is one of the most pressing issues in the world of pet owners.  The issue in question is that of the reputation of pit bulls.  Pit Bulls have arguably the single worst reputation of any dog breed.  That is because far too many people have abused them and made them into fighting animals.  As a result, most of the stories centered on Pit Bulls that people see on the news are negative.  But as audiences will see in this first segment, Pit Bulls are just as docile and loving as any other breed.  It dispels the belief that belief that this breed is just a mindless killer and proves even more the argument that it is indeed the fault of the human and not the dog that a Pit Bull becomes violent.  In an odd way, one could argue it is proof of the sociological argument that it is nurture, not nature that makes any living being become what it becomes in life. 

The second segment of Shelter Me is a proper transition from the topic of Pit Bulls.  This is because just as Pit Bulls have negative reputations, so do those behind bars.  Pit Bulls are ignored when they are sent to shelters just as inmates are largely ignored and labeled when they are put behind bars.  But as viewers will see in watching this segment, even those behind bars can be just as caring as the dogs for which they care.  Even more so, it shows that these dogs and others can help to give those behind bars the fire that they need to start their lives back on the right track.  Just as the dogs give the inmates featured here the start at a second chance, the dogs give themselves a second chance, proving their value even more.

The final segment of Shelter Me is just as solid a transition as that between the program’s lead segments.  The dogs featured in the feature’s second segment give both themselves and the inmates a second chance at life.  In the same vein, service dogs are just as valuable to the nation’s men and women in uniform.  Viewers are introduced to two young military veterans in this final segment. Both men were suffering the effects of fighting the war in the Middle East.  One was on the verge of taking his own life.  The other was on the verge of ending up as an inmate himself.  But when both men were partnered with a service/therapy dog, their lives were immediately turned around.  Because their lives were turned around for the better, it made them want to help their fellow soldiers.     

All three segments of Shelter Me provide very deeply heartwarming stories of the impact of shelter dogs on humans and vice versa.  From dispelling the reputation of Pit Bulls to showing the value of these and other dogs in various facets of life, Shelter Me provides audiences with touching story after story of the impact of shelter dogs.  The stories alone are enough to leave no eye the least bit dry.  Each one is compelling in its own right, showing that just because they’re in shelters, these animals are no less than those at a person’s local humane society.  Making the near hour-long feature even better is its transitions between each segments and the manner in which each segment is tied to the one before.  This makes the overall viewing experience all the easier and more touching.  Who knows?  It may even move viewers to share it with others and thus spread the movement to help both shelter pets and shelters.  Shelter Me is available now on DVD. 

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