Clad in a military-style flight suit and aviator shades,
Ford is not starring as the hero of a summer blockbuster but in fact is tagging along on a
The idea for the nine-part series emerged not from the halls of a progressive think tank but over lunches at a Greek diner near the CBS Broadcast Center in New York about four years ago. At the time, series creators David Gelber and Joel Bach were veteran producers on
Though numerous documentaries — most notably the 2006 Oscar-winner
"We didn't want to do another competent documentary that would essentially preach to the choir and would be seen by a relatively small audience who already agreed this is a big deal," Gelber said.
They recruited a trio of big-name executive producers — filmmaker James Cameron, former California Gov.
"I'm always looking for things that feel like a new way to do television, a new way to use television, and this felt like a really deep dive into one of the issues of our moment," Showtime President David Nevins said.
A guiding maxim for the project came from legendary "60 Minutes" creator Don Hewitt, according to Gelber.
"I wanted to do a story on acid rain. He said, 'Gelber, we don't do stories about acid rain, we do stories about people who do something about acid rain,' " recalled the Emmy-winning Gelber.
Schwarzenegger, who as governor worked to reduce greenhouse emissions, approves of this humanistic approach.
"We need to spend more time showing people how climate change impacts their lives instead of talking about data," he wrote in an email. "Each of these stories has a very human element, and gives people of any background a reason to join the crusade for a clean energy future." (Schwarzenegger also serves as a correspondent in "Years," following a crew of elite forest-fire fighters in Montana.)
"Years of Living Dangerously" focuses not on melting glaciers or polar bears but instead tells unexpected, character-driven stories about people directly affected by or involved in the climate-change crisis. Stylistically, however, the project is a departure from the staid documentary format, with the saturated color palette, exotic locales and suspenseful pace of a globe-trotting action-adventure blockbuster — perhaps not surprising, given its Hollywood pedigree. "Years" also boasts bona fide movie stars: To expand the project's reach, producers enlisted
The premiere episode weaves together three very different tales of communities affected by climate change. Ford journeys to the Indonesian jungle to investigate rampant deforestation fueled by demand for palm oil; in the dusty town of Plainview, Texas, Cheadle visits with a woman who, along with 2,300 others, was laid off when the local meatpacking plant shuttered after years of drought. Meanwhile, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman crosses the border into Syria to see how extreme weather conditions exacerbated political instability in the war-torn country.
Of course, the involvement of so many showbiz names is a double-edged sword. While the presence of easy-on-the-eyes celebs like
"Years of Living Dangerously" makes an earnest attempt to bridge the partisan divide on climate change. (Between Schwarzenegger and Weintraub, a self-described "fiscal conservative" who produced the HBO documentary "41" about
Following a winter in which both coasts were rocked by extreme weather, and just a few weeks after the release of a U.N. report issuing dire warnings about climate change, the series couldn't be landing at a more opportune moment. Nevertheless, the project has its critics. An op-ed this week in the New York Times accused the filmmakers of using "scare tactics" to stir viewers into action, an accusation Gelber dismisses as a "rush to judgment" based on the series trailer.
For his part, Gelber is optimistic about the fight against global warming, comparing the current situation to the early days of the civil rights movement. Paraphrasing Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, he said, "We're the first generation to experience in our lifetime the effects of climate change, but the last generation that has the chance to really do something about it."
'Years of Living Dangerously'
When: 10 p.m. Sunday
Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)