LOS ANGELES — The "Wild Kratts" have a new beast to tame.
Chris and Martin Kratt have over the years navigated visits with a Western spotted skunk and a moray eel. On Sunday at 8 p.m., the popular PBS Kids duo will tackle something equally difficult to soothe: a media-savvy adult with a remote control close at hand.
The Kratts, best known these days for their long-running presence in several animated series focused on animals and the environment, intend to take those interests to their viewers' parents as they host a live three-night series," Wild Alaska Live." The spectacle will let viewers watch live as cameras examine bears, wolves, beavers, moose, orcas and eagles gathering in droves to take part in Alaska's annual summer feast, sparked by hordes of salmon making their annual trek upstream to spawn. The Kratts will anchor the proceedings from places like Kenai Fjords National Park and the wilderness of Katmai National Park, with correspondents and some taped packages at the ready.
"You don't know exactly what you're going to find," said Martin Kratt, in an interview. "You know what you expect and hope to find, but you don't know exactly what's going to happen." Subsequent episodes will air July 26 and July 30.
PBS is the latest TV network to examine the possibilities of live spectacles, which have gained new emphasis as TV executives seek new ways to keep great numbers of viewers tuning in all at once. One-time couch potatoes can rise and find a TV program at the ready at nearly any moment, thanks to mobile devices and streaming video. But a live event is perishable: Miss it and you may face being out of the loop.
"Wild Alaska Live" isn't the Super Bowl or a Nik Wallenda tightrope walk above Chicago, but for some people, it's a spectacle they won't want to miss. "This is an event people may not have access to," says Bill Margol, senior director of programming and development at PBS. "There are places in the world where people want to go and don' thave the time or the means to get there."
More networks are placing emphasis on both old and new forms of live programming, from live stagings of popular Broadway plays like "Sound of Music" or "Grease" to a frenetic game show led by Neil Patrick Harris. NBC has even removed some of the advertising in its venerable "Saturday Night Live" to make it more appealing to viewers. CBS and NBC have elbowed each other for access to Thursday-night football games. And cable's E! recently appointed an executive, Jen Neal, to oversee live-event programming ranging from fashion shows to red-carpet walks.
PBS hope to announce another live effort for next year in the near future, said Beth Hoppe, PBS' chief programming executive.
The three-day Alaska event didn't just materialize out of thin air. PBS and the BBC collaborated on a 2015 effort, "Big Blue Live," which showcased marine life in Monterey Bay. "Alaska" is built on a similar model, meaning that crews are working on two productions one for British audiences and the other for Americans.
Viewers will understand seeing nature live is more than just a gimmick, said Hoppe. "We could not be live for the sake of being live," she said. "There's an actual event we are covering that gives it a reason to be live." Interestingly enough, the first episode will be broadcast against the opening of Discovery Channel's famous "Shark Week."
The logistics of "Alaska" are complex. Crews will be spread out over 800 miles, noted Margol. Equipment and consoles and cameras had to be shipped by barge or flown in by plane. "It's really this complex orchestration of people and equipment and time and then you layer upon that the complexities of Alaska's weather, which is never a sure thing." Producers have been at large in Alaska for several days now, trying to identify bears and other animals they can present when the cameras are on.
For the Kratts, their participation brings an opportunity to extend what they do to the parents of their regular viewers. The brothers say working with animals means being ready for almost anything, but this show offers new challenges. "We make sure we know all about the animals we are working with," said Martin Kratt. "But this is live and it will be different."