PBS "Fetchers" Come to Campus

The PBS children’s series FETCH! with Ruff Ruffman came to campus recently to film a segment for the show’s upcoming fifth season. Dressed as detectives, two contestants on the program (which is part reality show, part game show, part spoof), arrived at the Amherst Museum of Natural History with a six-person crew on a drizzly weekend morning in June.

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Sauter, left, shows the contestants around the museum
While cameras rolled, the contestants, Emmie and Marco, wearing Sherlock Holmes caps, posed and answered questions about dinosaurs and dinosaur footprints to Steve Sauter, the museum’s coordinator of education. “So these are dinosaurs, right?” Emmie asked, pointing to bones on the lower level. “Yes,” Sauter replied, “very large dinosaurs. Here’s a triceratops.”

The filming worked like this: Sauter and the kids would talk, unscripted, about mountain erosion or dinosaur tracks or the social habits of prehistoric creatures until a producer or cameraman would yell, “Cut!,” give direction on where to stand or what to say and order a retake.

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The contestants examine a bone fragment in the Musem of Natural History
As the very long day wore on (there were a lot of takes), Emmie and Marco did scientific deductive reasoning on the behavior, size and speed of the dinosaurs. Sometimes a producer would feed the kids a question, such as, How do paleontologists know that the tracks are so old? Sauter’s answer: Scientists gather data about the surrounding rocks to determine their age. (Later, the crew would film Sauter, Emmie and Marco outdoors at the dinosaur tracks in Holyoke, Mass.)

At one point, Emmie pointed to a rock inside a museum display case. It was shiny and purple. “Ruff, check this out: that is one pretty stone,” Emmie said. The exchange was one-sided: Ruff, an animated dog, is the show’s star. He was not on set.