The CW Discovers 'Life Is Wild'
The manic bustle of Manhattan and the domestic disharmony resulting from assimilating his two kids with those of his new wife also grates on this widower. So in The CW's "Life Is Wild," premiering Sunday, Oct. 7, Danny and his blended family move to South Africa.
His late wife was reared there in a lodge, where tourists stayed and wild animals roamed the grounds. Danny (D.W. Moffett, "For Your Love") and his first wife had met in the Peace Corps, and he maintains a strong sense of community service. He wants to pass this on to his children.
Sound familiar? Indeed, this series is based on the British drama "Wild at Heart," but with several critical differences. One is that this is a decidedly American family; another is that the story is told from the vantage point of Katie (Leah Pipes, "Clubhouse"), Danny's teen daughter, and not an adult, as in the original.
Shot on location, the show features panoramas that are nothing short of exquisite. Giraffes, wildebeests, elephants, antelopes, lions and zebras walk along the red earth, onto the beach and through the grass. The shots showing the animals silhouetted against the setting sun are particularly beautiful.
Pipes, 18 and from Los Angeles, relates to her strong character and the changes she's experiencing.
"Katie is uprooted from a very busy city life and put into a place where I am -- a stranger in a strange land," Pipes says in a phone interview from South Africa. "I am discovering how wonderful it is and I am meeting wonderful and beautiful people, and it is just like Katie. I have been able to develop a character internally because of these experiences we have together."
Like Katie, Pipes is from a large family. Pipes is one of five, and Katie is one of four. Katie feels responsible for her younger brother, 11-year-old Chase (K'sun Ray, "Smith"). She tries to befriend her troubled stepbrother, Jesse (Andrew St. John, "General Hospital"), the teen heartthrob of the show. Jesse is older brother to 7-year-old Mia (Mary Matilyn Mouser, "Eloise").
These two are the children of Jo (Stephanie Niznik, "Everwood"), a high-powered divorce attorney whose ex-husband is in jail for a white-collar crime. Jo loves her new husband, Danny, and wants their marriage to work, so she takes a demotion at her law firm and goes on this adventure.
An adventure is precisely what this show is for the actors. On no other set does a lion cub crawl onto the actors' laps or do elephants roam outside their doors.
"As long as you embrace the adventure, it is a fantastic experience," Moffett says.
He likens this job to knocking around foreign countries and being open to new experiences.
"You are on a train and you are in the bathroom on a train, and there's no toilet paper," he says. "It's part of the adventure. It is different from the U.S., and there's the hassle of being away from home and not seeing your family. It's the mystery of this place, the incredibly rich history of the continent, the art. I feel like I am in a living museum. And every day, I am getting some new treat. I can't tell you how excited I am for my kids to have this experience."
The cast lives near the set, as do the all the animals who, incidentally, are carefully monitored according to executive producer Michael Rauch.
"Whenever we shoot with animals, the animal wranglers are right there, and they are on top of it," Rauch says. "And if they feel like we're working an animal too hard, the animal is getting tired, they'll tell us, 'No more!' or 'One more take.' And we'll do it, and we'll stop, and always protect the animal, keep it in the shade, and just protect the actors from the animals and the animals from the work."
In the pilot, poachers shoot a lioness. Wounded, she searches for food and abandons her cub. Chase and Mia take care of the cub and love it but know it should be with its mother. The scene where the lions are reunited could have been hokey but instead is touching.
As the wild animals captivate the younger kids, the teens immediately see potential romances in the offspring of the owners of a nearby lodge.
As seems to be required of teen dramas on The CW, this has voice-over narration, with Katie explaining the story. Flashbacks briefly show the family's life in New York and its adjustment to South Africa.
The family starts to come together over the animals and will become closer as everyone gets to know one another better. Though Katie is initially distraught because her cell phone won't work in the South African wilderness, she eventually comes to her senses.
"I hope the audience takes from this what I have taken from this," Pipes says, "an understanding that there is life beyond television and video games and all these things we hold in such high standard in our everyday lives in the United States.
"There is this beautiful connection to nature that these people still hold," she says. "I hope people understand there is a world outside our life in this bubble and hope we can appreciate it and preserve it."