Monday, 17 February 2014

Hidden Kingdoms: Another Example of Dumbed-Down TV

When I was a kid I loved watching nature documentaries with my Dad. I used to love observing how the animals lived. And it was not only me learning about how the animals lived, but also my Dad and sometimes even David Attenborough and his crew. Educational television used to be important for not only teaching us commoners about the world, but also to extend our knowledge of the natural world academically. Nature programmes used to be the warts and all study of nature, where sometimes, your favourite animal was eaten, or mated, or sat about. This, I feel, is important.

Hidden Kingdoms has lost the essence of what it is to be a great nature programme. It is not educational. While the photography is gorgeous, that is it's only winning feature. The shots are great views of animals close up, but do not show them living naturally. Different scenes of animals running are put together to look like a chase, although it is clear the chase the programme shows never actually happened. The chase is a tool to tell us a story, one that is written before viewing any animals. The BBC have even admitted that many scenes were staged.

While Stephen Fry would be a great choice of narrator in a conventional nature programme, it is his talent as a storyteller is used here. Instead of explaining what is happening, and why it is happening, he narrates a pre-arranged story with ebbs and flows in tension.

Another huge gripe I have with Hidden Kingdoms is its use of music. High speed chases between animals are backed with exciting fast paced tunes, which slow when a more gentle scene of scavenging through foliage is taking place. The music is used to invoke emotion in us, whereas a standard nature documentary is impartial. In addition, the noises of the animals have been electronically altered, adding to the incredibility of the programme.

The advert for the programme boasts that it allows you to 'experience this wonderland through their eyes'. I disagree. The programme only lets us see animal worlds through our own eyes. And the fact that this programme sets out to make us believe that it is any different, is the most dishonest of all.

The series is over now, but you can probably catch it on repeat (as it inevitably will be for the next 5 years). To find out more, check out the promotional BBC page.


  1. Your nostalgia aside, this series was brilliant. The programmed demonstrated at length at the end how much of the narrative was staged, it was never sold as ultra authentic photo journalism, but as a manufactured story which used very real animals and very real situations. It was less a dumb down of documentaries (there are still many warts and all documentaries to visit on many channels) and more a smartening up of family story telling. My little'un enjoyed this with her Dad, managed to get some education but on top of that also had thrilling excitement, some laugh out loud mirth, and experience a well made part work. Education doesn't need to go back to the days of watching subdued, dull animals with an equally subdued narrator droning on and evaporating all the joy from it for the sake of dry authenticity.

    1. Well why not watch a nice programme about a little rat name Bob playing with his little animal friends? Spongebob Squarepants will suffice. Nature documentaries are not necessarily subdued and boring, Blue Planet was a fantastic series, and allowed academics to learn a lot more about underwater life than they already knew. The animals were not in real situations, the BBC set them up.

      The nature documentaries that are on are endless repeats, and no money is put into making good ones anymore. If you want only to be entertained, there's plenty of other mind-numbing rubbish for that. But why not be entertained and learn some cracking information (that may be previously unknown) too?

    2. I liked that earthflight show, chuck cameras on these animals and leave em to get up to what they usually get up to.

      It's a similar principle to Big Brother.