Heat, drought and catastrophe conspired to provide a perfect entrance for Arnold Schwarzenegger when he showed up at TCA on Thursday to promote Showtime's epic documentary on climate change. Billows of red-tinged smoke, spread across an unnaturally warm winter sky, framed the drive to Pasadena for the former California governor, Showtime president David Nevins and others attending the event at the Langham Hotel from offsite -- the result of a forest fire burning in nearby Glendora on an 80-degree January day.
Forest fires -- and his exposure to their increasing numbers during his tenure as governor -- were exactly what led him to become involved in the project, said Schwarzenegger. He's an executive producer and on-camera correspondent for "The Years of Living Dangerously," an eight-part documentary on global climate change that premieres in April. (Trailer after the jump.)
"One morning I woke up at 6 a.m. and there were more than 2,000 fires burning in California. Just think about that," Schwarzenegger said, after arriving late to Showtime's in-progress panel, wearing cowboy boots and an open collared-shirt with his grey suit. He joins exec producers Jerry Weintraub and James Cameron (not present) in presenting the documentary, which premieres Sunday, April 13 and will run in eight parts. Stars of movies and TV join high-profile journalists to report on crises and disruptions that are ostensibly linked to an encroaching global climate crisis in the big-canvas doc.
"This is the biggest story of our time, and now's the time to tell it," Cameron says in the program. Broadcast journalist David Gelber, a longtime producer on "60 Minutes," brought the project -- originally conceived as a theatrical doc -- to Weintraub. "I said, if you want eyeballs, do it on television," said Weintraub ("Ocean's Eleven"). "I wasn't interested in doing it as a film because I didn't think anyone would go to see it."
Seeking maximum explosure, Gelber said, the team first took the project to broadcast networks, but got a cool reception that he attributes in part to political divisions around the topic. By contrast, he said, Showtime's David Nevins embraced the multi-part docu wholeheartedly. The premium pay cable channel is currently at a historic peak of penetration with 23 million subscribers, Nevins said earlier in the Showtime presentation. Even so, producers say they'll utilize social media to extend the reach of the docu, and expose it on other platforms after its Showtime run.
Bringing in actors and their various constituencies was a key part of the strategy for spreading the message, they added. Besides Schwarzenegger, who has resumed his movie career, the microphone at various climate change hot spots is wielded by Matt Damon, Harrison Ford, Don Cheadle, Jessica Alba, Ian Somerhalder and others. "These are people who are already very involved in communicating about this cause," said Weintraub. "We weren't just choosing them for marquee value."