MPT brings wildlife adventures to youngsters

January 09, 1996|By David Kronke | David Kronke,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

PASADENA, Calif. -- Two brothers' trek around the world in search of exotic wildlife -- involving 11 different countries and 600 different species of animals -- will be coming to PBS in the form of a high-energy children's series, courtesy of Maryland Public Television.

"Kratts' Creatures," a series of 50 half-hour adventures aimed at elementary and middle school-age children, will star Martin and Chris Kratt, according to yesterday's announcement during the Television Critics Association press tour. The series will endeavor, in Martin's words, "to find out what it's like to be the animals," and will air weekdays beginning June 3.

"There were so many traditional nature shows, but nothing spoke directly to kids," explains Martin, a 30-year-old zoologist. "They were all staid, mechanical kinds of shows. Our mission is to introduce these creatures to kids, to bring children another perspective on animals, and to inspire kids that they can have their own adventures."

The two brothers took off for Costa Rica with a video camera as soon as they left college. Assembling short films on their parents' VCR, they shopped them around their local New Jersey schools and showed them to classes for feedback. After fine-tuning the material, and globe-trotting in search of new nature footage, they spent about four years trying to interest broadcasters in the project.

No one was interested in footing the bill for the brothers' travels until Leo Eaton, then of Maryland Public Television, saw their work. "He liked it a lot, and he showed it to his kid, who liked it, and that's what sold him," Martin says.

"Leo was crucial," says Chris, a 26-year-old biologist. "We had for four years been sending tapes out. And Maryland Public TV finally grabbed it and thought it was good. A lot of people thought it was good, but no one else was willing to take the risk. They really went after it and formed a partnership with us." (Mr. Eaton was scheduled to attend the press conference, but was snowed in in Baltimore.)

"We're novices about television," admits Martin. "But ignorance is bliss. We were just driven to do this, but since then, we've heard horror stories about how hard it is to get shows off the ground."

To enliven the press conference, the three brought a 10 1/2 -foot albino python, a ring-tailed lemur and a Nile monitor along with them. They also shared tales of assorted misadventures that occurred while they shot the series.

Like the time they tried to teach orphaned chimpanzees to openuts by beating them with sticks, and one chimp enjoyed whacking things so much that it went after the camera.

"We lost a lens, but we got a great moment for the show," Martin says.

Or the time a Tasmanian devil sized up Chris' leg as a potential meal. Or the time a cheetah playfully tackled Chris, and he didn't know if, again, he was about to become lunch.

"These are experiences you can't learn in books," Chris says.

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