Robinson Meyer: I saw the new season is coming out on National Geographic. Was that before the Murdoch purchase was announced?
David Gelber: Oh yeah, it’s been in the works for about a year.
Meyer: Have you heard anything about the new ownership?
Gelber: Well, you know, Fox has owned NatGeo for a while. It’s owned the channel for a while. I think the most recent deal has to do with other National Geographic properties. But we were really impressed with what NatGeo did last year, and Fox did run it as well, with Cosmos, the Neil deGrasse Tyson show. Which did a whole hour on climate change, and it was a terrific hour. So we’re not particularly concerned about editorial interference. I think we’re feeling very comfortable with being on a platform that’s so much bigger than the one we were on last time.
Meyer: Could you talk about what you’re trying to do with the show?
Joel Bach: There’s a number of things. One thing is to tell the human story of climate change, and that’s something we felt, prior to season one, hadn’t really been told. So real stories about Americans and people around the world who are being affected by climate change right now, as opposed to telling the story of climate change as some kind of distant, far-off problem that’s only gonna affect polar bears.
And then just linked to that is just telling great stories, with dramatic outcomes, uncertain endings. Riveting storylines, not a bunch of talking-head interviews stitched together with B-roll, but following stories over the course of a year. We always hoped we would have more than one season and we always hoped that each season would be another year of living dangerously. Season one, we had some people who outright denied climate change at the beginning of the filming, and by the end of the filming, because they had been so exposed to the realities of it, had come around to accept it as real.
Gelber: We came from 60 Minutes. And we had a lot of training there in terms of figuring out how to do stories that a large audience would want to watch. We certainly learned about the importance of characters—how we don’t do stories about issues, we do stories about characters that have issues connected to them. I remember telling [60 Minutes creator] Don Hewitt that I wanted to do a story about acid rain and he said, Gelber, we don’t do stories about acid rain, we do stories about people who do something about acid rain.
I think we also decided that 60 Minutes has a tendency to be something of a radio show. It’s not mainly visual; it’s mainly strong characters and people talking. And Joel in particular has a strong visual background, and we were really determined to do something cinematically with the show that had not really been done before, on an issue like climate change.
We’re doing this because this is an issue that television has handled very poorly. There’s been unbelievably little coverage of the most important issue of our time on network television. We would realize this at 60 Minutes. We used to have these fantasies about doing documentaries or even feature films just about climate—we both have young kids, and this is the most important story of our time, and we wanted to just do it and just do it in a style that people would really care about.