Northern Pictures’ ‘Reef Live’ to offer new insight into annual phenomenon

'Reef Live'.

Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef will be showcased to a live audience across Australia this weekend as part of Northern Pictures’ Reef Live.

In an Australian first, the two-part program will real-time visual insights of the once-yearly phenomenon of the majestic mass coral spawn as it unfolds.

Hosts Hamish Macdonald (Q&A, The Project), Brooke Satchwell (SeaChange), and scientist and inventor Dr Jordan Nguyen will be joined an array of world experts looking at ways to preserve the natural and cultural heritage of the reef for the future.

The broadcast will also follow the subsequent breeding bonanza of fish, birds, and turtles within the aquatic environment.

It will be the second of two productions from the company to air on the ABC this week, following Wild Australia: After the Fires on Tuesday.

Lucas Handley swimming with the whales.

The company’s head of factual Karina Holden told IF Reef Live was a way to break new ground in natural history filmmaking, while also creating urgency for viewers to watch programming at a specific time.

“One of the exciting parts about working in production is always doing something new and always looking for the next frontier,” she said.

“I think it’s more important than ever for broadcasters to have reasons for people to tune in on the night to watch, so that they are not just turning on the streaming when they want.

“For us, this is a way to raise a tacit conversation about the Great Barrier Reef in a non-traditional way, so that we are still able to look at how the reef functions, and how the people in that area live and work.”

Having started pitching and developing the show in 2017, Holden was given the green light to develop the program toward the end of last year, with the ABC taking it to commission in June. Screen Australia and Screen Queensland have also backed the production.

After going to great lengths to provide proof-of-concept and test the talent for the production, Holden was forced to navigate a new raft of challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

She identified the closure of the NSW/QLD border as having the largest impact on the show’s preparation.

“We were due to broadcast our studio out of Sydney until we got the notification that borders would reopen on December 1,” she said.

“Until then, we had to carry on with double planning, which has been very difficult.

“There are 140 people on the show, of which at least 40 have switched from being based in NSW to Queensland in space of a week.”

Reef Live will feature experts filming above and below the water, with marine biologist Dr Dean Miller, free diver and marine scientist Lucas Handley, and shark advocate Madison Stewart reporting from remote areas of the reef.

Back at shore, Dr Ann Jones host of RN’s natural history program Off Track, will broadcast from the world-famous hi-tech Seasimulator in Townsville, where millions of coral larvae will be ‘born’ in captivity, mirroring the events taking place at sea.

Some of the marine life that inhabit the Great Barrier Reef.

Holden said it is about capturing the excitement that happens around this time of the year amongst marine biologists.

“It came down to us wanting to come out and make 2020 go off with a bang in a very positive way, where we reflect on a new phase we are going into,” she said.

Northern Pictures is set to head into 2021 with plenty of momentum, with season two of the ABC docuseries Love on the Spectrum currently in production.

It comes Netflix acquired global streaming rights for the first season earlier this year.

The company is producing two projects for SBS, domestic violence series See What You Made Me Do, and one-off doc Strong Female Lead.

Set to air in May, See What You Made Me Do is be directed by Tosca Looby and will be hosted by investigative journalist Jess Hill, who also penned a book by the same name.

Reef Live will commence on Friday, December 4 at 8.30pm and conclude at 8.40pm Sunday, December 6.