Truly Wild Antics on U.K.'s Latest Reality TV Hit

The latest reality-television hit in Great Britain is full of sex and violence — in the animal kingdom. British viewers are tuning in to Springwatch Nightshift to watch uncensored, uncut animal action — with no adult supervision.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

The reality show "Big Brother" is really big in Great Britain. Its popularity is based on audience expectations of bad behavior, greed and low cunning. But as essayist Diane Roberts discovered, another TV show is outperforming "Big Brother" in the ratings.

DIANE ROBERTS: You want sex? You want violence? You want "Springwatch Nightshift." There was this furious fight the other week, four against one -biting, scratching, snarling, more biting. Finally they attacked the camera, tearing it to pieces. At the bottom of the screen, the crawling caption said: Classic badger action there. Playful romping helps badgers strengthen social status.

With their equipment wrecked, BBC2 had to cut to another camera, this one showing a bunch of cute, fluffy baby owls using their tiny talons to eviscerate a mouse. "Springwatch Nightshift" is live five nights a week from midnight to 2 a.m., the nocturnal sister program of BBC2's primetime hit, "Springwatch."

The hosts for this G-rated show are called Bill Oddie and Kate Humble. And while their names sound like they were stolen from a Dickens novel, they're perfectly real.

Each night, Oddie and Humble go around the U.K. documenting flora and fauna as temperatures rise - hedgerows blossoming out in snowy Hawthorne, Osprey nesting near majestic lakes, otters cavorting in pristine rivers. But come midnight, they turn the show over to uncensored, uncut animal action with no adult supervision.

It's not just badger combat and owl-on-rodent fury, it's stoat wrestling matches, it's insects biting each other's heads off, it's rabbits having group sex. I'm talking bunny orgy here. The "Big Brother" housemates might want to act like this, might come close to acting like this, but being humans, sort of, aren't allowed to act like this. The result, "Springwatch Nightshift" pulls more viewers than "Big Brother."

The eccentric popularity of "Springwatch" isn't hard to fathom. Though most of the British now live in cities or suburbs, they still think they belong to the countryside. It's important to the national psyche to know that the wild places of the nation, the moors and the mountains, the verdant down land hills and the rocky seashores are still out there teeming with furry or feathered critters under undimmed stars. Even if the wildest thing they're likely to see is a robin twittering in their tiny back gardens.

Besides, the British know that while William Blake called England a green and pleasant land, Lord Tennyson got nearer the mark when he said that nature is red in tooth and claw. Clearly, he was acquainted with several badgers.

HANSEN: Diane Roberts is a regular essayist for WEEKEND EDITION. This is NPR News.

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