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Discovery takes on 'North America'

Discovery Channel is at it again – and this time they’re right in our own backyard.
Photo from Discovery
Photo from Discovery

Discovery Channel is at it again – and this time they’re right in our own backyard. The latest from the network that brought you Planet Earth, Frozen Planet, and Africa premieres North America on Sunday May 19th at 9 p.m. EST. Like the awe-inspiring series that came before it, North America includes never-before-seen footage of North American animals, sweeping landscapes, and a celebrity narrator in Tom Selleck.

But unlike their others, this is Discovery’s first solo venture, having broken with BBC on the production of this project. North America producer Huw Cordey explained, “I think [the network] just thought, why don’t we just do one ourselves?”

The new series focuses on the vastness of the North American continent, from the Aurora Borealis to the shores of Costa Rica, first-ever footage of Hammerhead sharks and never-before-recorded audio of the vibrations made by jumping spiders—“kind of like a drummer bass beat.” The series took over three years to make with over 250 shooting excursions – on land, in sea, or by helicopter (the crew spent about 600 hours in choppers during filming). Some of these “unfamiliar” aerial shots are what Cordey is most looking forward to in the series.

Of course, bringing North America to life was not without its obstacles. The crew had a run in with Hurricane Irene, was almost trampled by bison while shooting a stampede from an ATV, and even had a “frightening” encounter with an overly inquisitive polar bear in Labrador, Canada – a huge wilderness area in northeast Canada and one of Cordey’s favorite locations that they shot in.

Cordey remembers encountering the majestic polar bear and thinking “oh that’s kind of nice you can hear the [breathing noises] of this bear snuffling outside the door.” That “nice” feeling lasted until he, and the rest of the crew, realized that the bear knocking at the door was not what they thought to be a Barren Ground black bear, but a polar bear – a frightening realization considering the polar bear is known to be one of the few animals that actually hunt humans. In fact, had the crew’s slightly paranoid pilot not been so concerned about the bolts on their cabin doors being aligned and re-screwed in, the polar bear may have gotten into their cabin. “I think back and that guy probably saved my life,” Cordey says, noting that the pilot was the butt of many jokes during that excursion because he was shouting at the mice that had taken up residence inside the rarely used cabin. “As it turned out, the mice were the least of our worries.”

But more than polar bear close-calls and mice-filled cabins, the one thing Cordey – who previously worked on three episodes of Discovery’s first series, Planet Earth – hopes viewers take away from the series is that the North American continent is far-reaching and full of extremes. Cordey told msnbc that “if there’s one thing I hope people do feel and understand is how incredibly diverse and varied this continent is…So many people take all the extreme weather for granted. You’ve got it all here. You’ve got hurricanes and tornadoes and blizzards and drought and monsoon rains, everything’s here. This is what you have to put up with year on year. And there isn’t another continent like it.”

Hear more from Cordey during his interview with The Cycle hosts here. North America premieres Sunday, May 19th at 9 p.m. EST on Discovery.