Dragon Master Produces Hit Television Special on Mythical Beasts
by Russell Guerrero
Sometimes a great notion can come to life when someone begins a question with the words “what if?” In the case of Kevin Mohs ’87, recently named director of program development for the Animal Planet cable network, the notion was “what if dragons really lived?” That simple phrase turned into a television event titled “Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real,” which became the most watched show ever on the network
The project began three years ago when Kevin, then an executive producer, was approached about developing a program on dragons. Kevin said he was attracted to the project because he had pitched a similar idea 13 years earlier. “Also, I was born in the year of the dragon, so it was a natural fit for me,” he added.
Early on, it was decided to develop something rarely, if ever, done in a television program. The special would take the documentary format and treat the mythical dragons as real creatures. Kevin describes it as a “genre busting” approach. “Although we were tempted to go in a full fantasy direction, ultimately we wanted to include elements of fantasy, natural history, nature filmmaking, and entertainment. We were inspired by what we saw in nature and wanted to keep true to the rules of science, biology, and animal behavior,” he said. Certainly a tall and challenging order. But Kevin is used to challenging television projects.
After graduating from TrinityUniversity with a degree in mass communication, Kevin went to the University of Maryland where he received a master’s in radio, television, video and film. Later, when Discovery Networks bought The Learning Channel (TLC), he was hired as a temporary employee to help review and organize TLC’s programs. With his foot in the door, he continued to take a variety of temporary jobs at Discovery Networks until he landed a full time position in the production department.
His big break came, in part, he says, because of his liberal arts education at Trinity as well as his years of living in Germany and Japan. Kevin pitched an idea that would become a successful series titled “Great Castles of Europe” on TLC. Later he created several more shows including “Great Palaces of the World” and “Ancient Warriors.”
Kevin says he eventually left TLC to get more hands on experience at a small production company that made shows for TLC and the Discovery Channel. While there, he became involved in producing, writing, and directing. For one program titled “Smokejumper Boot Camp,” he lived with young recruits who were hoping to join the ranks of elite firefighters that parachute into forest fires. For another show on Alpine rescue units, he literally dangled from a helicopter thousands of feet in the air in order to film spectacular footage of mountaineering rescue exercises.
Yet Kevin says that all the technical experience was not an end into itself. He says that being well rounded and becoming a good storyteller have helped him become successful in his producing career and certainly are the elements that played a major part in creating the dragons special.
For “Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real,” Kevin and his colleagues worked at making a unique television experience. They hired a noted British biologist to help theorize what it would take for a dragon to exist, for example how they manufactured hydrogen for flight and how they used platinum to spark their fires. Everything imagined had a real parallel in the natural world.
A story was developed to follow the lives of four types of dragons: prehistoric, marine, forest, and mountain. The faux documentary chronicles their rise and fall as a predator. It also retells the story of eternal battle between apex predators and humans.
When it came to visualizing the dragons for the program, Kevin landed a real coup. The producers contacted Framestore CFS, a special effects house in England famous for producing movie magic for the Harry Potter film series. “The special effects director loved the idea and worked to give the program the look of a high budget blockbuster at a fraction of the cost,” says Kevin. He said the effects are one of the big reasons for the success of the special.
And what a success it was. When “Dragons” premiered in March, it was seen by more than 3 million viewers, making it the most watched program ever on Animal Planet. The special also joined the ranks of the top ten programs on a commercial cable networks that evening.
In a job that has included camping on the savannahs of Kenya, sailing on research vessels in the Caribbean, and searching for jaguars through Central American jungles, “Dragons” has been the highlight of Kevin’s career. “ ‘Dragons…married my love of wildlife filmmaking with my passion for science fiction entertainment. We strove to create something that followed a certain logic, yet would entertain a general audience.”
The program is scheduled to be rebroadcast in the summer on Animal Planet and is now available on DVD.