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For many of us, turning 50 might not be something we necessarily want to celebrate, but for New York’s THIRTEEN, America’s most-watched public television station and the flagship station of PBS, its 50th anniversary this year is indeed a cause for celebration.
As an original architect of PBS, THIRTEEN has produced acclaimed content for the country’s nearly 360 member public television stations, including PBS’s most-viewed documentary series, “Nature.”
This week’s Interesting Expert spotlight belongs to Fred Kaufman, executive producer of “Nature,” which returns Oct. 10 with new programs on Siberian tigers, snowy owls and Attenborough’s 60-year career.
For two decades, Kaufman has been a leading executive in the natural history genre, with many of “Nature”’s most memorable presentations produced under his stewardship. Kaufman has been honored with more than 600 industry awards, including multiple Emmy and Peabody Awards. Recently, Kaufman was named the recipient of the 2012 International Wildlife Film Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Media.
Kaufman was kind enough to take a few moments from his busy schedule to answer a few of our questions.
Fred, can you tell us a little about what you do?
As executive producer, my primary goal is to keep the series relevant and worthwhile by selecting projects that distinguish us as the “go-to” place for stories of the natural world. I’m always aware that we depend on public support and, therefore, we must develop and produce shows that are worthy of that support.
What interests you about nature? How did you get started in this area?
I got involved over 30 years ago by accident. I had no interest or knowledge of nature. I was still in my early 20s, with little experience and just “looking for work,” when I heard about the series. I was hired as a PA for three months and stayed for 30 years.
What are the biggest challenges in producing nature documentaries?
The overall big challenges are staying fresh, building and maintaining the audience, and attracting funding.
Who comes up with the idea for the documentary?
Sometimes we generate the ideas in-house, but we also rely on producers from around the world to bring us projects.
Do you have a favorite production you’ve worked on?
“My Life as a Turkey” and “Christmas in Yellowstone” are my favorites. I could watch these over and over and still enjoy the filmmaking, the music, the script and the images.
“Nature” recently received five News & Documentary Emmy Award nominations in two categories. Congratulations! In a way, you’ll be competing against yourself. Is there one program you’re rooting for?
“My Life as a Turkey” is so unique and well-done and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I’m hoping it gets recognized.
If you weren't producing nature documentaries, what do you think you'd be doing?
I have no idea. I’d probably be in sales.