On February 8, right in the middle of the Tucson gem and mineral shows, Variety magazine announced that the TV series Meteorite Men which I co-host with Steve Arnold, had been renewed for a third season. It was a big day for us.
Of course, Steve and I had already known for a little while, but we’d been asked to sit quietly on our excitement and keep the news to ourselves. After all, an announcement in Variety is quite a bit grander than me just shouting from the balcony outside my showroom. Variety had been promised an exclusive on the Season Three announcement and I was under specific instructions not to say anything to anyone. In the age of Facebook and Twitter even one mention to one of my viewers could have resulted in the news spreading through the gem show, and then I would have been told to stand in the corner—an experience I was all too familiar with from British public school. I was, therefore, in a happy, yet awkward situation.
With many Meteorite Men fans visiting the showroom daily, we kept a friendly and unofficial tally of the most popular questions, which were: “Are you doing a third season?” “Where can I get your show on DVD?” “Where are you going next?” and “Is this rock I found a real meteorite?” Oh, and “Can I please go hunting with you?” was in the running too. When viewers take the time to come visit me, and compliment me on the show, and are clearly enthusiastic about my work, and space rocks, and science programming in general, I really don’t feel comfortable lying to them. So, I found myself—for those few rather inconvenient days—dancing around the answer to Question Number One and saying things along the lines of: “We hope to hear news any day now,” or “We are cautiously optimistic,” and in some cases, “If you’d like to see more Meteorite Men please let our friendly network, Science Channel, know.”
So, when the Variety piece came out on the 8th, I was able to relax a little, fully embrace the news, and share it with our viewers. Debbie Myers, the radiant general manager of Science Channel telephoned to congratulate us, and I greatly enjoy Debbie’s company, so that was the best part for me. I told her that I couldn’t imagine having a better boss, and she told me that we should be very proud because most series don’t make it to a third season.
During Season Two of Meteorite Men Steve and I had our own cameraman and soundman. As he and I typically split up while hunting for space rocks, and head off in opposite directions, doing things our own way and at our own speed, we each had a separate camera/sound duo assigned to follow us. You end up sharing a lot of powerful moments with those guys: The excitement of a find; the unpleasant surprise of nearly stepping on a snake; the fatigue and disappointment of a long, unsuccessful day. Many times, my cameraman would stop me for a minute, and ask some perceptive off-the-cuff questions: “How are you feeling about this particular site Geoff?” or “What are your tactics going to be for the last hour of daylight?” Meanwhile, the poor soundman has to listen to me blather away, literally for months on end—and through headphones no less! That is dedication to your work.
I was a professional musician for many years, and I discovered that traveling around the world with a film crew is very similar to the band experience. The team works long days, shares moments of hardship and exuberance; there is socializing in bars after hours and, of course, the requisite retelling of amazing stories from other shoots and adventures.
When filming for the season is over, it can be quite sad. We had basically the same crew for six of the eight Season Two episodes and you get to know people, somewhat, when you work with them twelve hours a day, for long months on the road. When I said goodbye to Second Camera operator Tim Murphy in the shopping center of Heathrow Airport, it was the sixth country we’d visited together during a four-month period. We had camped in below-freezing temperatures inside a giant meteorite crater; consumed steaming hot coca leaf tea in the wilderness of the Atacama Desert (entirely legal there, I might add), pulled a 223-pound space rock out of a green field in Kansas, and excavated gaping holes deep in an ancient forest north of the Arctic Circle. Those are not everyday experiences, and I found myself liking and admiring these hardworking men whose job it was to make us look as good on screen as they could manage. I remember saying to Tim, as we shook hands, that I had particularly enjoyed his gentle sense of humor, and I hoped we would cross paths again.
Making quality television takes a lot of time. The gaps between seasons can be several months in length. Once filming is complete, scripts need to be written, footage edited, sound effects and music collected, narration recorded, and science facts checked. While those tasks are being carried out by the specialists in post-production, the others— the cameramen, soundmen, producers, and directors—still have to eat and pay rent, so they will likely take the next available project, and we don’t know if we will ever have the opportunity to work with them again.
We expect to commence filming Season Three in the late spring or early summer so, before too long, production will start “staffing up.” That is, hiring people who will work exclusively on that season. For my co-host and myself, it’s a bit like starting at a new school: You have some idea of what you are going to be doing, but you don’t know who you’ll be doing it with. I am a huge movie buff and I love the process of putting a program together. I’m also a photographer, have done a bit of independent film making, and used to work as an audio engineer. As such, I have learned a lot from our talented crews, and I’ve also shared plenty of laughs with them. A favorite moment in Chile was when one of our soundmen took me aside and quietly said: “It’s really fun to hang out with you and Steve. We usually aren’t allowed to talk to the talent.” I found his revelation shocking! What TV host would travel around the world and not want to share some drinks and good humor with these hardworking and highly entertaining professionals?
In a month or two I’ll be meeting the Season Three team, and we shall begin contemplating long journeys to strange places, in search of even stranger rocks from space. My job, at the moment—and Steve’s—is to research possible sites, sift through old science papers and reference works, and try to figure out where we should go in order to continue the hunt.
In my spare time—that being a rather narrow window between the end of Season Two and the beginning of the 2011 gem show—I wrote a book. And that reminds me that I forgot to include one of those very popular questions in my list and it was: “How can I find my own meteorite?” I put the answers to that in Meteorite Hunting: How To Find Treasure From Space, which was published on February 1. By very kind invitation of The Voice of Tucson, I shall be appearing at the Tucson Festival of Books this weekend. I’ll have copies of the new work available for sale and signing, and I hope to meet some of the Meteorite Men viewers who reside here in town. Come on down and meet a genuine space rock (and I don’t mean me—I’ll have some fabulous meteorites on display). I will be at the TucsonCitizen.com booth Saturday and Sunday from 1 pm to 5 pm. The FOB is a great event. If you have not attended before, come along and experience it for yourself. If you care about words on paper, you will not be disappointed.