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‘Aerial America’ tackles Texas

Aerial America: Texas

• 7 p.m. Sunday

• Smithsonian Channel


Posted 4:23pm on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014

It’s inevitable. Proud Fort Worth residents are going to feel shortchanged when they tune in for the long-awaited Texas installment of Smithsonian Channel’s Aerial America.

The episode, which premieres at 7 p.m. Sunday, offers a unique bird’s-eye view of the state’s great landmarks and landscapes.

The show is bursting at the seams with spectacular photography, much of it featuring iconic North Texas locations.

The Dallas skyline is lovingly showcased. So is the Southfork Ranch that was made famous in the 1970s by TV’s J.R. Ewing family.

The Aerial America helicopter-camera crew also flew over Dealey Plaza, site of the JFK assassination, and over the behemoth Arlington stadium that’s home to the Dallas Cowboys.

But Fort Worth, the state’s fifth-largest city, is missing.

No Stockyards. And not one of the city’s world-class museums.

“It’s the one place where I felt we didn’t do justice to, because it’s not in the show,” says Toby Beach, the executive producer of Aerial America. “It’s a shame, because we had plans for Fort Worth.”

No slight was intended, Beach insists. The omission is the result of inclement weather when the Aerial America team came to film North Texas in late March 2013.

“We did two shoots in Texas,” Beach says. “The first was a big loop from North Texas down to the coast and then back again. Then we did another one on the western side of the state, of El Paso and all that stuff. Two big shoots. We shot close to 35 hours.

“But the reality was, the first three days, we couldn’t even fly because we were weathered out. We were sitting on the ground outside Fort Worth for three days. We went to go shoot the Stockyards, but the weather was so bad everything looked terrible.

“I feel, if you film locations in bad weather, it does them a disservice. It’s unfortunate, but we can’t get everything. So we tried to make up for it elsewhere.”

And sure enough, the images taken of Austin, San Antonio, El Paso, Palo Duro Canyon, Padre Island and other locations across the state are stunning.

The episode stresses how proud Texans are of their state — and then it beautifully illustrates why.

The hardest part about putting together the Texas episode, Beach says, was whittling down hours and hours of great footage into a mere 42 minutes of show.

He was forced to make some tough calls in the editing room. Mind you, the same can be said about every state that Aerial America profiles.

“You can pick any state in the country and you can always find beautiful places to shoot and interesting stories to tell,” Beach says.

The new season of Aerial America, a series that launched in 2008, also soars over Idaho, Utah, Kentucky, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. The series is 43 states into its epic quest to capture all 50 states from the air.

“Actually, we’re doing a program on Washington, D.C., and one on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, so that makes 52,” Beach says.

Every image in the show is shot from a helicopter armed with a state-of-the-art Cineflex C-14 HD camera system. The series is the brainchild of Smithsonian Channel executive David Royle, who recognized the potential in doing a history/travelogue show from this unique perspective.

Beach is partial to landscapes, so his favorite Texas locations tended to be far removed from city skylines.

“We went down to Marfa, for example,” he says. “It’s beautiful there. We got up one morning and didn’t know if we were going to get anything because we had also gotten weathered out in Marfa for two days. But we sensed that there might be a good sunrise coming, so we got up and shot it.

“There’s a beautiful shot that’s featured in the show. It’s coming over a hill and you see the sun and it looks almost like something from another world,” he says.

“I was also pretty blown away by Padre Island and the beauty of that coastline.

“And to see the Permian oil fields from the air is pretty impressive. It’s one thing to be on the ground driving through, but to actually see the number of pump jacks, it’s pretty amazing.”

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