When Fox TV airs Opening the Tombs of the Golden Mummies: Live! next Tuesday, audiences will get to see and ask questions online about one of the most exciting archaeological finds in years an ancient necropolis.
And in what might become a new genre of entertainment call it shock-educational TV one of the mummies will be unveiled for the first time on a
live segment of the broadcast.
The program is the second time in recent years that Fox has mined ancient
Egyptian history for compelling subject matter. One year ago, the network was nominated for an Emmy for its special on new archaeological discoveries at the Pyramids.
That program, produced by Peter Isacksen, took a full nine months to put
together in Cairo and Los Angeles, with the help of Dr. Zahi Hawass, the
Egyptian government's chief archaeologist and a world-renowned expert on the
In Opening the Tombs, the animated Dr. Hawass is back again, leading guest
hosts Hugh Downs and Bill Pullman and Fox reporter Lisa Guerrero through the
excavations at the recently discovered Valley of the Mummies.
But this time, Isacksen and co-producer Leslie Greif were given only eight
weeks to prepare the broadcast, and they've been operating under what could
be called extreme conditions on location at this desert oasis some 260 miles
from Cairo, where 100-degree temperatures are normal this time of year.
"The challenge is overcoming every possible obstacle," says Greif, a veteran
of Hollywood movies and entertainment television. "We're dealing with a
different language and a different culture. There are no telephones, no
supermarkets, and no hospital. This is a place where the most common form of
transportation is a donkey."
To surmount these obstacles for the $3 million production, Isacksen and Greif
turned to Tammy Johnston, a former chief of operations at ABC Sports and one
of the most experienced line producers in the business. Within a week of
their first conversation last month, she was in Egypt, surveying sites,
dealing with local vendors and drawing up lists of the crews, equipment and
logistical support needed to film in the Bahariya desert.
"As a woman, it's a little more difficult for me," the 39-year-old Johnston
said. "When I walk into a room with one of my male colleagues, the Egyptians
just assume the men are calling the shots. But once I start to talk money,
they figure out pretty quickly that I'm the boss."
|Tech manager Luther Fisher and cameraman Ken Ludlow
set up a shot over the Sahara
Operating initially from an office in Cairo, Johnston resolved the donkey
problem by hiring a fleet of Egyptian drivers and vehicles. To get around
the single telephone line servicing the entire oasis, she brought in several
satellite phones and two satellite uplinks for live broadcasts. And to power
their lights, cameras, fax machines and a full-sized office printer, she
imported dozens of gasoline-powered generators.
In total, more than one million pounds of equipment has been flown in to
create a TV studio "in the middle of nowhere," Johnston says.
"In every place you work, you pick up a little even if it's just another
level of patience," said Johnston, who has worked in China, Hong Kong and
Japan. "It makes the next place easier."
To direct the show, Greif hired Steve Beim, an experienced director of live
sporting events at ESPN. And to supervise production in the field, he
borrowed news producer Pam Brown from Fox News.
For housing, feeding and caring for the 141-member crew, the producers
have taken over the three guest houses in Bahariya, brought over their own
chef from Los Angeles and set up an American-trained staff of Egyptian
doctors, paramedics and nurses in a mobile clinic.
Dan Stein, a veteran Hollywood production chef, arranged for daily supplies
of ice, fresh fruit and vegetables and meat through the Four Seasons Hotel
|Director Steve Beim: That's a wrap!
But when he arrived in Bahariya last week to set up ahead of the crew, Stein
found a filthy field kitchen with no screens, two ovens that barely worked
and a sleepy local staff. Stein fixed the screens himself and drilled his
assistants on the importance of a clean kitchen, making them wash their
hands, the floors and counters as often as five times a day.
Now Stein is producing three meals a day for the crew, with the simple but
valuable promise that "No one gets sick."
The fluidity of the production is also evident in the script, which is
changing daily as Dr. Hawass make new discoveries. The
location of the show's dramatic live final scene when a mummy is unveiled on
camera had to be changed and the script rewritten when Hawass informed the
filmmakers of a major new mummy discovery.
Greif refuses to disclose any details of the discovery, hoping to build up
suspense for the broadcast.
"I can only tell you that the man inside the mummy is dead," Greif said. Then
he added wistfully: "Just think of the ratings we would get if he were