After producing hundreds of episodes and winning five Emmy Awards, “Life Below Zero” is still going strong nearly a decade after it first premiered on Nat Geo in 2013. “It really felt like there was something special” from the very beginning, reflects showrunner Joseph Litzinger during Gold Derby’s Meet the Experts: Reality TV panel (watch the exclusive video interview above). “You never know if the audience is going to respond or what the ratings will be, but [there’s] no way I could have predicted [the show’s success],” he adds. The most recent 15th season aired on Nat Geo last fall and is now available to stream on Disney Plus.
“It’s nice to win awards and get recognized,” the producer says about the show’s recent triumphs at the Emmys, winning for cinematography in 2016, ’18, ’19 and ’20 and for picture editing in 2017. “The beauty of the cinematography and the editing awards is that it’s recognition from your peers. We all try to do the best job that we can do, with or without awards. But it is nice to be recognized, of course.”
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Litzinger chats about one of the more emotional episodes from this past season, titled “The Other Side,” in which Ricko DeWilde burns down the cabin that his brother died in decades ago. “I think for me and for the team, what made that episode stand out was the emotional vulnerability that you have,” he explains. “It’s something you don’t see every day in a reality show, or even a documentary. For someone like Ricko, that comes from him trusting us to be emotionally vulnerable like that, to take us out there, to be in that moment, and to really learn about him and learn about the human condition.”
From the production standpoint, “Life Below Zero” is one of the more dangerous shows on television. In the recent season, the brother of one cast member (Chip Hailstone) broke his wrist and had to be flown to a hospital, while another person (Sue Aikens) had to protect her property from wolverines. “The way that the show works is we send a crew of four people out there in the field,” says Litzinger, “so the scary moments for me mostly are calls in the middle of the night from a sat phone. Over the years we have learned that is part of the nature of living and working remotely off the grid. There is that raw and authentic danger that is there.”
Also in our exclusive video interview, Litzinger talks about the importance of having “moments of beauty and magic” to contrast the danger, how the production schedule works for so many different locations and cast members, and how he’s “super proud” to be involved in such an important project.
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