This Wednesday at 9 p.m., the Discovery Channel launches what may be a first — a six-week series that will be telecast live from the U.S.-Mexico border. Hosted by CNN's Bill Weir with field reports from veteran TV investigative correspondent Lilia Luciano, "Border Live" promises to "engage experts" on various border issues, while looking at a "tapestry of people who live and work along the border." The program will initially originate from two locations — in Texas, near the Rio Grande, and Nogales, Arizona.
This is not a complete departure for New York-based Lucky 8 — a prolific production company of unscripted programming, including A&E's "60 Days In." It was behind Nat Geo's long-running "Border Wars" (2010-16).
I spoke recently with Lucky 8 co-founder Kim Woodard and Luciano, formerly with NBC News and a winner of a local 2018 Edward R. Murrow Award for coverage of the California wildfires for Sacramento's ABC affiliate, KXTV, where she now works:
Did your work on "Border Wars" prepare you for this?
Woodard: We started our relationship with the Department of Homeland Security when we did that series, and special access projects like this come about when you have a track record of saying what you want to do and deliver on it.
What did you tell them you were planning?
Woodard: They're interested in doing projects where camera crews are coming in to provide an unfiltered look at what's going on.
Homeland Security's work along the border has at times been controversial. Are officials there frustrated with the TV coverage?
Woodard: To do a story about the border in a news segment, you only get so much real estate. For them this is an opportunity to participate in a TV series . . . of two-hour programs following several stories and letting those stories play — and seeing what happens when the car goes through the entry point or when someone is going on border patrol or Lilia providing context on what the border world is like. They saw this as a real opportunity to have the American viewing audience get a better understanding.
But are they frustrated?
Woodard: I wouldn't speak for them [but] we're not trying to explore one agenda or another. We want to have cameras immersed with people who are walking the line, to see what that's like, and see what happens with border recon, and with people in shelters seeking asylum — to let viewers have an unfiltered look.
ICE has had its share of critics, too. Will this humanize the agents?
Woodard: To my knowledge, that's not something that's come up . . . Once again, this is a moment where the American audience is interested in seeing for themselves what's going on at the border, and to bring an unfiltered look.
What are the risks? Obviously, sometimes nothing happens during live shots.
Woodard: Yes, that's what gives me sleepless nights [but] we do want to give an accurate picture, so it's not that there's drama and action happening every minute of the day. These are communities where normal life is happening. We expect that to be reflected in the show.
What's the reality of what's going on at the border right now?
Luciano: Local authorities yesterday [in Nogales] were running tactical rehearsals in case large numbers of people show up here to prevent what happened in California . . . [The border crossing at San Ysidro was closed down last week when the Border Patrol fired tear gas at migrants who rushed the crossing.] There are all these questions about sovereignty and about the legal use of tear gas. There's a lot of studying and preparing to minimize the criticism [of the response in San Ysidro].
Why live — which you know as well as anyone has its own set of limitations?
Luciano: A lot of crews that are live will be out there with Border Patrol and local law enforcement [while] the interesting thing about live is that you don't know what's going to happen. Also, it just brings this element of transparency. We're not making a movie about the border, not shaping stories, just bringing you here authentically and spending time as things unravel. But not everything will be live, of course [Luciano has already taped a number of story packages, she says]. This just brings you closer to reality, so that you feel like you know it more intimately.