Inside the making of a National Geographic “docu-series”

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We’re not experts in how a National Geographic “docu-series” is actually produced, which is why we have so many questions about the process. For instance…

On the evening of Tuesday, January 29, 2013, in Homer, Alaska, National Geographic field producer Natalia Livingston led the casting call for an upcoming “docu-series” about the Old Believers of Nikolaevsk. Ms. Livingston, who won an Emmy Award in 2005 for her portrayal of Emily Quartermaine in the daytime drama General Hospital, has been in and around Homer many times in recent months, and has been working closely with the community to build their confidence in the National Geographic team — and to encourage Old Believers to participate in the making of the series. Those folks who do agree and are selected will need to sign releases and other legal documents which will enable them to appear on the show.

Weeks later, when the cameras finally start running, Jarrett Lambo — who is the showrunner — will finally arrive and take control of the entire production. It’s Mr. Lambo’s series, and he will be calling all the shots.  (His TV production credits include Moonshiners for Discovery, Paranormal Challenge for the Travel Channel , and Jersey Shore for MTV.)

Which makes us wonder: Why does the field producer do all the advance work and the confidence building, recruit the talent, and then persuade the participants to sign all the legal agreements…

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… but the show runner doesn’t show his face in Homer until everyone is legally committed to the project?

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To our untrained eye, this seems odd. After all, for a sensitive production like this one, shouldn’t the showrunner be on the scene months in advance, meeting the locals and assuring them that the production is in trustworthy hands? Shouldn’t the Old Believers know exactly who will be behind the camera?

Do you, dear reader, understand this process? Is this standard operating procedure in the world of the television “docu-series”? Because we’re totally stumped.

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