A National Geographic show spent nearly $1 million in Hillsborough

The series Secrets of the Zoo came to ZooTampa at Lowry Park.
A camera crew films a manatee rescue at ZooTampa at Lowry Park as part of National Geographic's 'Secrets of the Zoo' series.
A camera crew films a manatee rescue at ZooTampa at Lowry Park as part of National Geographic's 'Secrets of the Zoo' series. [ Courtesy of ZooTampa ]
Published Sept. 19, 2019

TAMPA ― National Geographic filmed its third season of the television series Secrets of the Zoo in Tampa.

And they brought their wallet.

The animals of ZooTampa at Lowry Park will be the stars of the show that highlights what goes on behind the scenes at the tourist destination.

But there were no monkeys or giraffes manning the crew for any of the six episodes scheduled to premiere in late 2020 on Nat Geo WILD. Experienced human professionals filled those roles, 26 of whom live in Hillsborough County.

There were plenty of crew from out of town too. Those professionals racked up 371 hotel room nights during filming.

Overall, National Geographic spent $936,330 in Hillsborough County during 48 days of filming of Secrets of the Zoo from March through May, according to its application for a county production incentive of $93,633.

RELATED: More public money sought to keep eager producers filming in Tampa Bay

The incentive program offers up to 10 percent back on what is spent in Hillsborough, but only after the county audits the receipts.

Local salaries totaled around $500,000, according to the application, and hotel expenditures were nearly $50,000. National Geographic also spent around $272,000 in Hillsborough on post production.

This season, reads the application, “will highlight the best of ZooTampa at Lowry Park, showing all that it takes to make magic happen." That will include veterinary care, feeding, live births, expanding habitats and the “wild people and wildlife that create the zoo’s unique culture and identity.”

Added ZooTampa CEO Joe Couceiro, “The series also takes a behind-the-scenes look at the relationships and connections between our zoological team and the more than 1,200 animals entrusted to our care.”

RELATED: Tampa production company is behind ‘Secrets of the Zoo’

The local company hired for the job was Emmy Award-wining Tampa-based Spectrum Productions — not the cable company — that has also been producing television shows and series for animal expert Jack Hanna since the early 1990s. Spectrum also helmed the first two seasons of Secrets of the Zoo that documented the behind-the-scenes work at Ohio’s Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

“Our dream is always to produce series in our own backyard where we can give locals an opportunity to work on shows here and nurture emerging talent," said Spectrum CEO Guy Nickerson.

In 2016, the Discovery Channel hired Spectrum to produce 10 episodes of the Street Science series in Hillsborough. That production spent $850,000 and earned an $85,000 incentive.

Spectrum used the incentive as a carrot to bring Secrets of the Zoo to Hillsborough.

“Our best business development tool is always our local production companies,” said Hillsborough County film commissioner Tyler Martinolich. “By exposing Spectrum to our incentive program, they now have the confidence to continue looking for ways to bring series to the Tampa Bay area.”

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