Why Discovery Channel Rebuilt a 19th-Century City

To promote Klondike, a scripted show about the gold rush in the Yukon, Discovery Channel recreated an 1800s-era Dawson City.

By Anna Sekula January 27, 2014, 11:40 AM EST

Photo: Courtesy of Discovery Communications

'Klondike' Premiere Screening 'Klondike' Premiere Party
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When the Discovery Channel premiered Frozen Planet it brought live penguins to New York, and when it launched Bear Grylls: Escape From Hell, the cable network had Grylls rappel down the front of a London power station. For its first scripted miniseries, Klondike, a drama about the gold rush in the Yukon, the TV network wanted to go even bigger. That meant recreating full sets from the show for live events, including a saloon in Pasadena for the Television Critics Association's winter press tour and a replica of a late-19th-century town for the January 16 premiere in New York.

To pull it off, the event team at Discovery Communications, led by the director of global events, Andrew Shortell, worked closely with the channel's marketing, communications, and digital and social departments as well as design and fabrication house Premier Displays and Exhibits and the same Los Angeles prop shop used by the show.

“'Authenticity' was the mantra for this project and the rebuild from day one,“ said Jeff Kaplan, vice president of global events and brand activation at Discovery Communications. “You can't fake the late-1800s and make it believable.”

Particular attention was paid to the New York project, especially as the setting for the screening's after-party at Discovery Times Square Exposition became a free exhibit that was open the public for five days. To complicate matters, an activation for the 10th anniversary of Animal Planet's Puppy Bowl—the creature-focused channel's counterprogramming to the Super Bowl—was scheduled to go into the space just a week later. That gave the crew at Discovery Communications four days for the build out and just 30 hours to take it down so the Puppy Bowl could begin its set up.

Beyond the physical setting, the organizers used other elements at the premiere to recreate the visuals from Klondike. There were staffers—bartenders, piano players, and guides—dressed in era-appropriate costumes, and caterer Abigail Kirsch served hearty fare such as Yukon potato wedges. At the screening inside the Best Buy Theater, guests received stuffed toy huskies and snack boxes with trail mix. And as guests left the reception, staffers filled bags with customized trapper hats and pouches of gold nugget-shaped bubble gum.

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