Documentary on 'Wild Kingdom' co-produced by UNL journalism college airs tonight

"Exploring the Wild Kingdom"
"Exploring the Wild Kingdom"

Every Sunday beginning in 1963 through the late 1980s, 34 million Americans took part in a ritual that included tuning to Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom.” The program captured unpredictable wildlife encounters -- from charging elephants and baby lions to 200-pound snakes.

Oshkosh native Don Meier was creator and executive producer of the original show, and his work is chronicled in the new documentary “Exploring the Wild Kingdom,” airing at 7 p.m. today (May 31) on NET1/HD.

The documentary explores the evolution of the program as well as Meier’s broadcast production skills and his instinct to continually reinvent “Wild Kingdom.” It also looks at the physical and technical challenges Meier faced as he traveled around the world to produce the program.

“It was not intended to educate a scientific audience, but it was rather to be enjoyed by the general public,” Meier said.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of “Wild Kingdom.” For a quarter of a century, it helped inspire environmental consciousness in a new generation of viewers. The show pioneered the use of color film and new sound technology that brought animals from lush jungles, scorching deserts and icy Arctic areas to TVs across the United States. The program ended in 1988.

Host Marlin Perkins, director of the St. Louis Zoo, was paired with younger hosts who wrestled alligators and dodged venomous snakes while he talked about wildlife in ways his audience could understand.

“We always edited it so that the program looked as though you were looking over Marlin’s shoulder and participating with him in the action,” Meier said.

“Exploring the Wild Kingdom” is a co-production of the UNL College of Journalism and Mass Communications and NET Television.

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