Discovery's 'Frozen Planet' Premieres With Live Penguins, Ice Sculptures
"If you haven't figured it out yet, the theme tonight is penguins," said David M. Zaslav, president and C.E.O. of Discovery Communications. Zaslav, who made his remarks from the stage at Alice Tully Hall on Thursday, March 8, was introducing the premiere screening of the Discovery Channel's new documentary, Frozen Planet, for which the media company brought an array of penguin elements into the Lincoln Center concert hall. Clutching plush versions of the aquatic bird from their seats in the Starr Theater, the audience had already encountered live penguins, penguin-shaped ice sculptures, and penguins in their SeaWorld habitat via a live Web cam at the reception.
For the premiere event, penguins were, as vice president of global events for Discovery Communications Jeff Kaplan described it, "a central theme from the beginning." The animals are not only an integral component of the seven-part series, which focuses on life in the polar regions, but a big factor in the marketing campaign, with images of penguins in the ads on buses and cabs. Discovery also launched a promotional 24-hour live stream set up inside SeaWorld San Diego's penguin exhibit, which since its March 1 debut has received millions of views.
Naturally, the live penguins were biggest attraction at the premiere, drawing crowds with an appearance on the red carpet—colored blue to match the marketing for the series—and their own mini habitats in a special section of the reception. And although bringing live animals to an event setting is a logistical difficulty for most, the production team utilized the company's connection to SeaWorld through sister channel Animal Planet to its advantage.
"We wanted it to be seamless, so several measures were taken, including [the penguins'] first-class travel—as seen on YouTube—the temperature of their green rooms, even down to the shape of the ice we put into their 'environments' because certain shapes hurt their feet," Kaplan said. Indeed, the video of the penguins wandering about an airplane cabin went viral the day after the event. "It's safe to say they stole the show, from their arrival on the plane, to having them walk the blue carpet. They were tremendous and we thank SeaWorld for helping make it all happen." Discovery Communications' director of global events Betsy Clawson worked closely with the theme park to coordinate, making sure all precautions were taken.
One unexpected challenge was the weather, which was in the 60s for most of the day and affected the plan for the collection of ice sculptures. Ultimately, it meant being careful about which elements to construct first, using dry ice and thermal blankets, and waiting until the last possible moment to set the most eye-catching piece, a tiered sculpture of 10 penguins that sat on the outdoor steps of Alice Tully Hall. "My team learned more about ice than we ever thought we would," Kaplan said. "[For instance] once ice is fused and becomes a larger structure, it doesn't melt as fast."
Despite the potential snags, the affair went off without a hitch, and after the screening, the crowd headed into the lobby. There, stations from Catering by Restaurant Associates doled out hand-rolled sushi and sashimi and waitstaff passed porcini agnolotti with shaved black truffles, Rice Krispies-treat "ice cubes," and mocha and vanilla cream puffs rolled in powdered sugar.
As they left, guests were given stuffed toy penguins, an idea dreamed up by Zaslav. "They were so well received," Kaplan said. "I'm not sure who enjoyed the penguins more, the adults or the kids."
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