TV picks of the week: It's been a real wild life

David Attenborough is always prepared to get up close and personal in his animal encounters. Photo / Supplied
David Attenborough is always prepared to get up close and personal in his animal encounters. Photo / Supplied

Pick of the week: Attenborough: 60 Years in the Wild

In this programme, Sir David Attenborough reflects on his many years as television's foremost natural history documentarian.

The first of three episodes, Life on Camera looks at how the technology used in his programmes has changed in six decades, while the second and third - Understanding the Natural World and Our Fragile Planet - look at scientific breakthroughs in his lifetime and his views on conservation and the planet's ecological future.

Next week's first episode is a wonderful collection of many of Attenborough's most memorable encounters.

He recounts his early experiences filming Zoo Quest and the simple challenges of even getting to the locations where the unusual creatures were to be found.

There's footage of him spending nearly two weeks on a wooden boat in Indonesia, with a local crew, trying to find an island where they might see a Komodo dragon.

Next he delves into the underwater world, looking at how advances in scuba gear and underwater cameras made the watery depths more accessible.

Some early experiments with things such as a "bubble helmet" make for fun anecdotes from Attenborough, always the great raconteur, and also reinforce the determination of his team.

The advent of digital technology made it all easier, allowing them to film underwater for much longer, giving greater light sensitivity, and detail. One example is the chaotic boil-up seen in 2001's Blue Planet series, where there are schools of lightning-fast fish trying to avoid seabirds diving from above, and seals and sharks coming up from below.

Attenborough also heads back to Borneo to revisit deep, dark jungle caves full of bats and explains how developments in the security industry led to using infra-red cameras, which meant they could film in the dark.

In one of the most spine-tingling scenes he recounts the scary experience of filming lions roaring at night, being able to hear their growls but unable to see anything in the pitch black - only the camera could reveal that they were just metres away from him. Then he moves on to more recent developments, such as the starlight camera, used to film his encounter with a kiwi in 1998; thermal cameras which helped him demonstrate the amazing physiological adaptations of the marine iguana in the Galapagos; slow-motion photography to capture birds' flying movements; worm cameras; time-lapse techniques which aided his delving into the world of plants; and the developments in aerial photography which have allowed the tracking of animals from above with much greater success.

As Attenborough says, despite all the advances, some of the best shots still come from one camera, held by one person, with a deep understanding of the natural world.

Sometimes, simple tricks such as using a pea-shooter are the best solution.

When: Tuesday, 8.30pm
Where: TV One
What: Sir David's memoirs

Politics pick: Back Benches

It's all about bringing the politicians to the people in the new series of Back Benches, and for MPs it can also act as an audition for a career in talkback.

Filmed at the Backbencher pub across the road from the Beehive, the show brings in three to five politicians each week to discuss timely topics and tackle questions from the live audience and hosts Wallace Chapman and Damian Christie. Debate is encouraged, but it's less formal than many current affairs programmes, with plenty of humour and the aim of getting straightforward responses rather than the usual grandstanding. The show used to run on TVNZ 7 between 2008 and 2012, but came to an end in July last year when that channel was shut down, so Prime, whose parent Sky TV is a strong broadcast lobbyist, picked it up.

When: Wednesday, 10.30pm
Where: Prime
What: Pub politics

Comedy pick: Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway

Kind of like the Royal Variety Show (but without the Queen) meets Graham Norton and Punked, this series was a hit during its run in the mid-2000s. It took a break in 2009 but gets a reboot this year and can be seen here only a few weeks after screening in Britain.

Fronted by Geordie duo Ant and Dec, the show is made up of sketches, parodies, pranks (often played on celebrities), audience challenges, musical performances, and appearances by special guests.

In the first episode the guest announcer is David (Little Britain) Walliams, Robbie Williams performs, and Boyzone creator and British X Factor judge Louis Walsh appears in a new segment called I'm a Celebrity ... Get Out of Me Ear where the star has to do whatever Ant and Dec say.

When: Saturday, 7.30pm
Where: TV2
What: Fast laughs

Food pick: The Great British Bake Off

Back for its third series, this baking show pits 12 of Britain's best amateur bakers against each other in the kitchen. Hosted by British TV personalities Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, the bakers face three challenges each week that have been carefully devised by expert judges Mary Berry and the fantastically named Paul Hollywood.

The first episode is all about cakes, and first they must bake an upside-down cake to perfection. In the technical challenge the bakers tackle Hollywood's recipe for the tricky rum baba, which is a hybrid of cake and dough. And in the final showstopper cake round they must bake a cake that reveals a hidden design when it is cut into. Later in the series they bake everything from flatbreads and bagels to creme caramel layered meringue.

When: Monday, 8.30pm
Where: Prime
What: Ready steady bake

Crime pick: DCI Banks

British actor Stephen Tompkinson, who has appeared in many top quality TV dramas over the years, including Ballykissangel and as the creepy headmaster in 2006's Prime Suspect: The Final Act, stars as Chief Inspector Alan Banks in this crime-busting series.

With feisty Detective Sergeant Annie Cabbot (Andrea Lowe) he goes about solving grisly and baffling cases in an almost obsessive fashion.

In the pilot episode two police officers respond to a dispute between Marcus Payne and his wife.

One of the officers is killed and later Payne dies.

Banks discovers Payne's home is that of a serial rapist and murderer whom the police have been hunting. Four of the victims are buried in the cellar but another is missing and possibly still alive.

When: Sunday, 9.35pm
Where: Prime
What: Bobby on the beat

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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