What do David and Richard Attenborough have in common?
Parents and films.
Richard is the film-making brother who directed "Gandhi" and is working on "A Chorus Line."
David is the student of zoology, geology and anthropology who produced "Life on Earth," in which he compressed roughly 3,500 million years of the development of life on the planet into a limited TV series.
Now David is back, this time with "The Living Planet: A Portrait of the Earth," a 12-part weekly series for PBS examining the many environments found around the globe and how plants and animals adapt to them. The series begins tonight on 22/67 and 26.
">'Life on Earth' dealt with the development of animals," said Attenborough. "But it did not show how environments interrelated. That was a lack. We decided to look at environments worldwide -- jungles, mountains, deserts," sea and sky.
The idea is to show "what makes a desert a desert or a jungle a jungle. That's not been distilled before. What makes a rain forest what it is? Why do they have things in common, even though the animals and plants in each differ from each other, and yet the basic notion of a jungle remains the same?"
For instance, he said, "there are certain ways to get over sand dunes. So snakes and lizards will evolve those ways separately, whether they live in the Sahara or the Nambib desert."
Attenborough's professional history has been one of coupling an academic pursuit to mass media outlets. As a young man he studied at Cambridge University and, after leaving the Royal Navy, went to work at a publishing house. He soon made the transition to broadcasting. He is credited with helping launch color television in Britain, and he developed the multi- part series into a staple of the BBC's programming.
As television was changing, so was the study of natural history. "Now there's a different way of looking at animals," he said. "It used to be that they were looked at as specimens in a jar or on a dissecting table."
They are now the subjects of films, TV series and books. "I have milked the BBC -- without conscience or scruple -- to do this sort of thing all over the world," he said.
For this series, the BBC and Time- Life Films sent Attenborough to all seven continents and 63 countries. He covered 150,000 miles in 31/2 years.
Attenborough, 58, also produced a book that is a companion to the series. In the book, exposition does the job largely left to images in the series. "What happens is, one does research and thinks about the issues," he said. "There are ways you will attack that in words . . . there'll be very little in the way of adjectives in the film commentary. There're a lot of theoretical aspects that you will indeed put in a book . . . The two come out as being complementary . . . I'm delighted to be able to work in both. It's an absolute godsend, if I may use that term loosely."
And speaking of godsends, where does the evolution-creation question fit in here? "Evolution was germane to the previous series," said Attenborough. "My response to that question is straightforward. I see nothing in the 2,000-million-year history of the planet that necessarily contradicts the idea of a god. Indeed, evolution seems a much more noble thing to happen than for someone to snap their fingers and say, 'Let there be a chameleon.'"