By Jim McCloskey
Up until recently, I’d watched in frustration as watershaping failed to gain any significant traction on television. Sure, pools and hot tubs and fountains and ponds have been featured components in more broadcast series than I can count, but what I’ve really wanted is a good show about watershapes, how they’re made and why they’re so special.
I have to say I was heartbroken back in 2001 when our WaterShapes TV pilot didn’t capture the imaginations of the cable executives to whom we sent it. And I’ve been bummed by the fact that, in the dozen years since then, I’ve only seen a few one-off “specials,” typically on unusual or over-the-top swimming pools: These shows, it seems to me, have been too occasional and scattershot to develop a following; besides, they tend to portray watershaping in an off-the-hook, surreal light.
But now, with Pool Master (starring my friend Anthony Archer Wills) wrapping up its first season on the Animal Planet network and Pond Stars (featuring the team at Aquascape) coming to the National Geographic Wild channel in September, I’m hopeful that the time is right and that watershaping will become a more regular fixture on the broadcast spectrum.
I must admit that Pool Master scared me a bit when I saw its promotional teaser for the first time: Its focus on Anthony’s exuberant personality made me fear that the producers would play to his quirks and trivialize his watershaping genius.
In the series itself, however, Anthony’s energy surfaces in appropriate flashes and is, I think, effectively balanced by the manifest intelligence, insight and determination with which he approaches his projects. Yes, I am bugged from time to time by the artificial “tension” that seems to crop up awkwardly among the excavator, the site manager and the designer, but I’ve seen this type of dramatic crutch used so often on cable shows that I can grin and bear it.
I do so, of course, simply because watching Anthony at work is an inspiration. I’m hoping that this series is a wonderful, multi-season success and that they’ll eventually let Anthony pivot to focus less on his pools and more on his ponds: Every one of them I’ve seen represents a master class in creative watershaping.
Speaking of naturalistic watershaping, I have high but more practical hopes for Pond Stars, which will feature the approach to pond design and installation developed by Greg Wittstock and his chief collaborators at Aquascape. We at WaterShapes have worked with Greg on several occasions and with his co-stars Ed Beaulieu and Brian Helfrich even more frequently, and they’re such polished communicators that I’m certain they’ll hit a long home run with their series.
Say what you will about the Aquascapes juggernaut: I know their work and philosophy well enough to assume that everything they’ll do on television will come from carefully considered, well-informed perspectives. More than that, it’ll come from belief – a collective faith that they’ve figured out effective, responsible solutions when it comes to crafting ponds, streams and waterfalls (not to mention pondless waterfalls and rainwater-harvesting systems). It’s also clear that they enjoy designing and installing their watershapes and that their clients enjoy owning, maintaining and mastering them.
I’ll come back to Pond Stars again after I’ve seen a few episodes, but I’m pleased by the fact that Greg and his colleagues are working with National Geographic Wild: To me, that inspires healthy confidence that these productions will be sharp and insightful, with an emphasis on ideas and results rather than overdoses of flash and showmanship. Here’s hoping!
And who knows? If this keeps up and some sort of demand for watershape-related material actually develops, I may have to dust off the ol’ WaterShapes TV pitch and give it another shot!
To see segments from the WaterShapes TV pilot, click here.