Behind David Letterman's New TV Climate Series Gig

'Years of Living Dangerously' producers talk about why the late-night icon got involved with the show.

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Letterman's choice to explore India was a welcome surprise for the series' producers, who had noticed the former Late Night host showed an interest in climate change on his show.

What could be funny about climate change? We'll see. In his first gig since leaving CBS's Late Show, David Letterman will travel to India to explore the subject for the documentary TV series Years of Living Dangerously, interviewing the prime minister and looking at the nation's ambitious plans to expand solar power.

Other celebrities, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jack Black, and Olivia Munn will join the Emmy-award-winning series' second season, set to air on the National Geographic Channel next year.

We talk to the show's executive producers, 60 Minutes veterans David Gelber and Joel Bach, for a sneak peek.

This conversation has been condensed for length and clarity.

How did Letterman get involved? Will he bring his trademark humor to the project?

Joel Bach: Letterman has shown interest on his show for years on climate change. We didn't know if he'd want to join the cast,but when we reached out to him, he said he was delighted to. He's dying to do this, sees it as a big issue, told us that he thinks about it all the time.

David Gelber: I can't imagine that Letterman won't be [funny]. David's humor has a lot to do with what people give to him. His responses to what people present are where the humor comes from. He's not like a standup comedian, he interacts brilliantly with people.

There are very specific things to do about climate change. I'm not talking about changing light bulbs or buying a Prius.
'Years of Living Dangerously' producer David Gelber

He's doing an incredibly interesting story. A lot of what happens on this issue of climate change will be determined by what goes on in India, because India has 300 million people who do not have access to electricity. There's a real question about whether India's going to rely on its cheap, dirty coal, or whether as [Prime Minister Narendra Modi] is saying, they're going to turn in the direction of solar and renewables.

What other stories are you planning?

Bach: We're going to shoot with Jack Black in Miami.

Gelber: Miami really is ground zero in this country on climate change. A lot of climate scientists think at some point in the 21st century, Miami's going to be overwhelmed by sea-level rise. It's something that a lot of the political leadership in Florida doesn't want to engage on, but it's an incredible story, what's happening to Miami.

Bach: We're also going to go to China with Arnold Schwarzenegger to see what they're doing to address the issue. China's seen by many people as the kind of bad operator in this space, but they're actually doing amazing things to address climate change.

How did you match the personalities to the topics?

Bach: We present some story options to the various celebs and say, do any of these interest you? Letterman, we thought he'd maybe do the Miami story. He said: "You know, I've never been to India, and I believe in solar power and renewable energy, and I'd like to go and see what that country's doing." That was a bit of a surprise for us, but we love the fact that he wants to go to India.

What’s been missing from the conversation about climate change?

David Gelber: I think that's what's been missing is a clear awareness that there are very specific things to do. I'm not talking about changing light bulbs or buying a Prius. Legislating a price on carbon emissions, making the polluters pay for what they're doing—if we did that, it would break the logjam on political action and progress on climate change. There is something we can do to fix this problem, and people need to understand exactly what that is.

Joel Bach: There are other really big solutions out there. Distributed solar, which is solar panels that you put on your roof that actually put energy back into the grid—those are amazing and really helping alleviate this issue. The military is addressing this issue in a big, big way, and we're going to do a story on that with Arnold Schwarzenegger. This season, much more than season one, will focus on those solutions and show our audience what can be done, and what is being done, by thousands and thousands of people.

The story is part of a special series that explores energy issues. For more, visit The Great Energy Challenge.

On Twitter: Follow Christina Nunez and get more environment and energy coverage at NatGeoEnergy.

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