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Idealog—in the ideas business

True detective

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Someone must have told Leigh Hart to always, always over-deliver. But his request to TVNZ programmers to let him deliver six one-hour episodes of his new show instead of the 30-minute episodes commissioned—at no extra charge—is surely a first in the history of television.

“I don’t think that’s ever happened,” agrees Hart, “and in recent years quite the opposite has happened. We’ve had a few production companies not even able to deliver their programmes at all on far bigger budgets than we had.”

Still, Hart has made his modest budget go a long way—to many corners of the planet, in fact. Leigh Hart’s Mysterious Planet follows him as he sets out to solve some of history’s greatest mysteries, from the existence of Nessie and Bigfoot to the fate of the Incas and the construction of Stonehenge.

Great pitch. “I think the timing was just right and it was a pretty simple proposal. I had an old book that my granddad gave me when I was ten, called Mysterious Planet, and I just added my name to it and said that was the show. I was thinking of Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World, too.”

Hart and his four-strong crew hit the road for eight frantic weeks of filming in the US, Europe, South America and Africa. Not everything went according to the (admittedly not very detailed) plan. “We had a couple of snakebite issues. In the Amazon I was trying to do the Crocodile Hunter thing and manhandle a snake, and instead of me getting bitten, the cameraman did.

“And then in the desert in Roswell, New Mexico, one of the guys had blocked sinuses. I looked in my medical kit and instead of giving him antihistamine we gave him anti-snake venom—which is made from venom. So he had to get treated for snakebite without even being bitten by a snake.

“In Egypt, we got lost in the desert. No one else was over there in the middle of July doing anything like this, because it’s so hot. It was frightening, very hot and there were dead horses and dead camels everywhere.”

Now safely back in Godzone, can Hart say he’s solved any mysteries? “Uh, no. We had our hopes but I think we’ve come closer than most people.”

He admits though to finding some new mysteries along the way. Like the Bigfoot enthusiasts gathered for a convention in Ohio. “I didn’t even know they had Bigfoot down in Ohio, but apparently he’s everywhere now. There are about 65 different federations of Bigfoot researchers, and they all fight and race each other. They’re the bigger mystery. They’re just unbelievable.”

Originally published in Idealog #26, page 22

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