Nature documentarian David Attenborough with young orangutan at Sepilok rehabilitation...

Nature documentarian David Attenborough with young orangutan at Sepilok rehabilitation center, in Sabah, Malaysia. (2011) Credit: AP

THE SHOW "Nature": "Attenborough's Life Stories: Life on Camera"

WHEN | WHERE Wednesday night at 8 on WNET/13.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT For 61 years, David Attenborough -- through the offices of the BBC's Natural History Unit -- narrated and produced the signal nature documentaries in TV history, including "The Living Planet" (1984), "The Life of Birds" (1998), "The Blue Planet" (2001) and most recently, "Frozen Planet." (Alec Baldwin narrated the version that aired last year on Discovery.)

Wednesday night through early next month, "Nature" takes a look at his own natural history, beginning with "Life on Camera" this evening, and ending Feb. 6 with "Our Fragile Planet."

Tonight, he speaks of his childhood inspiration, British naturalist Cherry Kearton (1871-1940) -- an orotund filmmaker with a wonderful touch of eccentricity, given to flapping his arms in the presence of penguins. Sir David then talks about advances in camera technology over the past half-century -- thermal, time-lapse, digital and so on -- that would capture so much glory over so many years.

MY SAY Though he probably hates the accolade (and apparently does), Attenborough, 86, is a world treasure who has done more than any human being alive to advance the art of TV nature documentaries. He's also used his considerable celebrity in support of a wide range of conservation efforts. ("Frozen Planet" was punctuated with an urgent and passionate jeremiad about global warming.)

Moreover, he's a towering figure in his native Britain, where his fame may well exceed that of his brother's, actor-director Richard. All this said... Attenborough probably is not best equipped to tell his own life story, if tonight's episode is an indication. It's not clear whether introspection is his long suit -- or if it is, whether this film might have been better served by having someone else interview him about the legacy of his remarkable body of work instead of conducting the tour himself. There's a joyful lightness to "Life Stories" -- with Attenborough's innate sense of humor on display -- just not much depth.

BOTTOM LINE Less about Attenborough's momentous life, more about some of his greatest hits.


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