Bill Weir checks off his ‘Wonder List’ for CNN

After Bill Weir arrived at CNN from ABC’s “Nightline” in late 2013, he went right on the air to fill in as a prime-time host interviewing guests in a studio.

Recently looking back on it, he realized his mind was often somewhere else.

“There were a lot of nights when I was walking off the set on the seventh floor thinking, man I’d rather be getting off a plane somewhere I’ve never been telling much deeper stories,” he said at a recent lunch to promote his new CNN program “The Wonder List.”


Not long after Weir made those feelings known to his bosses at CNN, he was off to some of the most spectacularly scenic locations in the world as the cable news channel continues its charge into original series programing.

“The Wonder List,” which premieres Sunday at 10 p.m., is one of 12 series CNN will put on the air this year and the first to be produced in-house. That means it can get revenues from selling it to broadcast outlets around the world.

CNN President Jeff Zucker launched the programming initiative with “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” in 2013.

Weir’s eight-part series will go to unspoiled parts of the globe that are at a crossroads. His first stop is Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific that Weir descries as “Hawaii before hotels -- Bali before Burger King.” He examines the tension between inhabitants who want progress -- along with the money that can come with beach resorts -- and those whose desire is to maintain the tribal tradition of living naked in the forest.

Joined by cinematographer Philip Bloom, Weir hit five continents in five months with a crew of four to shoot in such locations as the jungles of the Galapagos Islands; the glaciers in the Alps; Ikaria, Greece; Venice, Italy; and Everglades National Park in Florida.

“We set out to create time capsules of places we all agree are precious in their current state,” said Weir. “But due to forces of change, whether its time or humanity, it’s bearing down on them.”

Climate change is a topic that comes up often in the series. Weir knows he’s wading into what can be politically polarizing territory. “We address it. When you talk about global change that’s one that obviously leaps to mind,” he said. “You can’t not do that story.”