If you were captivated by the recent hyper-visual CG-laden The Lion King, then the Discovery Channel’s upcoming Serengeti will make your jaw hit the floor — because it is real life. With the series premiering August 4, it’s close to the release of the new iteration of the Disney film and creator and producer Simon Fuller and director and producer John Downer admitted that it was just a coincidence.
“We certainly weren’t planning it,” said Downer of the release dates of Serengeti and The Lion King. He said he hasn’t seen the movie yet, but he said he did see the trailer and realized that it looked like their series.
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“There is a convergence there,” added Downer. “The Lion King is going for photo-realism. We’re going for realism…we are trying to do something different.”
Narrated by Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, the series follows the heartwarming stories of a cast of African wildlife including lions, zebras, baboons and cheetahs over the course of a year, showcasing the dramatic moments that make each day of survival on the Serengeti a feat. Unlike The Lion King, Fuller and Downer realized that they can’t control these animals and planning a narrative is nearly impossible.
Downer said they did have a plan but the animals had a seasonal arc that drove the narrative. “We had a very fluid script that was informed by the animals,” he said.
He added, “We follow these characters and storylines and events that were life-changing for the animals. We like to think the animals were telling their stories — we didn’t force it. We took the narrative from them.”
“The original thought was we wanted to tell the stories of the animals,” said Fuller. “Family was at the heart of most stories. We identified five [animal] families over the course of two years.”
Fuller and Downer worked on Serengeti for several years and traveled to the untouched plains of Tanzania for the series. Their team employed innovative filming techniques and set the footage to the backdrop of original music for the six-part series that follows the unique stories of Kali the lioness, Shani the Zebra, Zalika the Hyena and many more.
The first episode of Serengeti will be presented commercial-free on August 4 at 8 pm on Discovery. New episodes will air on subsequent Sundays.
Nancy Daniels and Howard Swartz serve as executive producers for Discovery Channel. Serengeti is made by XIX Entertainment and John Downer Productions and was commissioned for BBC TV by Tom McDonald, Head of Commissioning, Natural History and Specialist Factual.