Mutual InterestAug 18, 2015 03:30PM ● By Anthony Flott
He didn’t curse like anyone on The Osbournes or have the sex drive of a 16 & Pregnant regular, but before any of those cast members staked their claim to fame there was Marlin Perkins and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.
“Jim Fowler says it was the original reality TV show,” says Patty Malone. “It was really a new, forward-thinking kind of show different than anything else out there.”
Adds her husband, Mike: “They weren’t staging things for the most part. They set their cameras in the right place.”
Now the Malones are putting cameras in place with a Wild Kingdom reboot. The couple, principals in the commercial video and photography production company Malone & Co., are filming and producing webisodes of the iconic show, which ran Sunday nights from 1963 to 1988.
It’s been more than a quarter-century since the original show’s curtain call, but the name Wild Kingdom still resonates. “We run into people all over and they have very fond memories of that show, that time in their lives,” Patty says.
Mike has taken photos for Wild Kingdom sponsor Mutual of Omaha for more than 20 years, producing images for annual reports, other publications, and the web. When the insurance company celebrated 50 years of the show in 2013, it called again on his eight-person company to produce a 21st-century version of it.
The process began with a national search for a “wild guide” host. That was claimed by South Dakota native Stephanie Arne, a one-time intern at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.
Malone’s team first produced a webisode on “Reef Madness,” exploring efforts to save coral reefs in the Florida Keys. Then came webisodes on buffalo in Custer State Park, the invasive Tegu lizard wreaking havoc in the Everglades, and on the California condor. The second season featured elephants, cheetahs, giraffes, and penguins. The third season, airing this spring, features leopards, sea otters, kangaroos, and manatees.
Episodes of the show, which has generated nearly 3.5 million views in three years, can be viewed at wildkingdom.com (as can clips from the original show).
The episodes usually are filmed within two to three days. Mike says he often has competing reactions to assignments: “The first one, of course, is, ‘This is great. We’re really excited to be doing this.’ Then it’s, ‘How the heck are we going to make this happen?’”
The longtime photographer had done some work with dogs and cats, and even cattle for an agricultural client. “Nothing this level,” though, he says.
His most memorable session so far, he says, was filming condors with assistance from the Ventana Wildlife Society. “Half a dozen flew over the top of us and the sound of the wind through their wings is really unforgettable. They made me a little intimidated, but they have no interest in you because you’re not a carcass.”
Thanks to his crew’s efforts, Wild Kingdom is alive and well, too.
There are differences from the original series with Marlin. Most notable, perhaps, is that episodes aren’t filmed in the wild. Rather, today’s Wild Kingdom partners with entities such as Tanganyika Wildlife Park in Kansas, the Los Angeles and Dallas zoos, and California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium. Those entities provide access to, and expert information about, animals and habitat.
Also, the webisodes are shorter than what aired on television. Malone and Co. produce a handful of segments on each topic, those running from two to three minutes each. The company also creates rich, ready-made content for various social media channels, provides a photo gallery, and quick “Fast Facts” videos with the bubbly, energetic Arne.
What’s similar? The same great animals and the same great storytelling.
“You can provide people both young and old an understanding of the animal kingdom,” Mike says. “That’s still the same. Especially young people watching these. We get a lot of feedback from teachers using these in the classroom.”