National Geographic Channel’s announcement Thursday that Alec Baldwin would host a new weekly “Night of Exploration” programming block was a bit of a head-scratcher, especially for those who know his impassioned work with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. And especially after reading the list of documentaries that will be presented under this umbrella.
Each Friday night, starting June 14, Baldwin will help NatGeo “celebrate the spirit of exploration.”
That first night, one of the documentaries he will introduce is called “Mystery Bear of the Arctic.” It’s about an American sports hunter who, back in 2006, went to a remote Canadian island to shoot polar bear — and shot and killed what he believed to be a polar bear. Only it turns out that it was not necessarily a polar bear, which, NatGeo noted, unleashed an investigation by the Canadian authorities. The hunter came under threat of prosecution for a crime he says he did not commit.
According to an NBC News report of the incident, the hunter had paid $50,000 for a guide and a permit to hunt polar bear , but found himself faced with the possibility of a $1,000 fine, up to a year in jail for shooting a non-polar bear, “as well as the disappointment of an expensive hunting trip with no trophy.”
SPOILER ALERT: Tests on the dead bear came back showing it to have been the love child of a polar bear and a grizzly bear. The hunter did not get fined, because he’d made a good-faith effort to kill a polar bear. The hunter even got back his dead bear from the local natural resources department — no disappointment of expensive hunting trip with no trophy to show for it.
Scientists were thrilled, because the dead bear was believed to have been the first such polar/grizzly hybrid documented in the wild (polar bears and grizzlies apparently had been successfully paired in zoos before), and they all lived happily ever after — except the bear, of course.
Contacted for comment, a PETA rep told the TV Column: “Alec is known for getting his views across very clearly, and sometimes in surprising ways.” The spokesman pointed the column to a 2012 episode of “30 Rock.” At that time, Baldwin wrote to friends of PETA that he agreed to appear in a scene featuring a horse-drawn carriage in New York City, only if his Jack Dohaghy character described such carriages as “rolling torture wagons for nature’s most dignified creature.”
“The description of the [NatGeo] bear episode is very vague, we can’t comment on it until we’ve seen it,” the PETA rep concluded.
But a spokesperson for NatGeo said that Baldwin’s “role in ‘Night of Exploration’ is to introduce themes of adventure, discovery and exploration on a variety of programming without offering specific viewpoints.”
Baldwin told The TV Column the determination of which documentaries were included in the series was up to NatGeo.
He said he was assured the hunt in this particular docu was a legal hunt. He explained he is opposed to sport hunting, but believes “you will never be able to illegalize these things…All I can do is try to influence behavior.”
The airing of programming in which animals are killed for sport, for their fur, etc., can work to the advantage of animal rights activists’ advantage, Baldwin insisted.
“‘Twas ever thus, that when you show these things….that people shoot these exotic, or endangered, or what have you, animals, it has dividends for the animal rights community,” he said.
The hosting gig he accepted “as a supporter of the National Geographic Society’s 125th anniversary,” he explained.
“Night of Exploration” is not Baldwin’s first NatGeo gig; he previously narrated the docu’s “Great Migrations,” “Planet Carnivore” and “Journey to the Edge of the Universe.”