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Behind the Scenes Commentary: UPS Worldport on History Channel’s Modern Marvels

It’s a must-see television event, a sweeping tale showcasing man’s epic struggle against nature, high-tech gadgetry, international big business and a nation’s army on the move.

Sounds like pretty good TV, huh? What is it, you ask? The latest blockbuster from Jerry Bruckheimer? A two-hour “McGyver?” A very special episode of “Blossom?”

Actually, it’s the latest installment of the History Channel’s excellent series, “Modern Marvels,” and it features Worldport, UPS’s international air hub. Starting tonight, the show will air on cable and it might be worth your while to watch.

Periodically, UPS is approached by documentary channels about shows featuring our complex global operations. We love to showcase Worldport, our air fleet, our Supply Chain Solutions capabilities and some of our special deliveries.

It’s always fun, but it’s always challenging, too. Imagine following a cardboard box through the guts of a 5.2 million-square-foot supercomputer in the middle of the night when there’s no time for re-takes.

We’ve had to figure out how to put cameras in boxes flying down belts, drive Segway scooters down tight sorting aisles and deal with matters of state, like we did to get footage of our international shipment of China’s Terra Cotta warriors (one of the topics of the Modern Marvels episode, by the way).

Between the scouting, coordinating people and resources and shooting, we’re usually talking 16- or 18-hour production days.  But hey, around-the-clock logistics is the business UPS is in, right? And the work is always cool. Or, in the case of the Modern Marvels shoot, downright cold.

On the January night we shot the piece, Louisville was hit with a blast of arctic air that drove temperatures down near zero. (For those of you not on the Fahrenheit scale, this translates to “oh my goodness, I can’t feel anything below my knees” degrees.)

Of course, Worldport serves customers all over the globe in all kinds of weather — no thermometer has a measure for a service guarantee. To combat the extreme elements, we have snow melters and de-icers; we implement elaborate bad weather operating plans, and, of course, we dress accordingly.

To stay warm, the key is to layer. I usually wear my winter running gear under my work clothes and parka. Sometimes, if it’s going to be really frigid, I top everything off with my ramp coveralls — think Randy from “A Christmas Story.”

Of course, a successful layering strategy involves actually having layers. That was the problem our History Channel producer was experiencing that 3-degree night. Lawrence and his windbreaker had come from southern California, where it had been 80 (pass me the lemonade and suntan lotion, please) degrees when he left.

Now, Lawrence was a great guy and clearly talented at what he did.  But his light jacket wasn’t exactly up to the 77-degree temperature swing. We were supposed to be working on an episode of “Modern Marvels,” but he probably felt like he was working on “Ice Road Truckers.” Indeed, the marvel that bitter night wasn’t Worldport, but that we were able to complete the shoot.

True to the UPS spirit, though, Lawrence proved to be a trooper. He hung tough and was able to get some really great footage and interviews.

I can’t wait to see the finished episode, entitled “Deliver It,” when it starts airing soon. If you’d like to see it, too, check your local TV listings and pull up a chair in front of the History Channel. You won’t even need longjohns!

Category: UPS News
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    Comments [1]

  1. The magical DVR caught this for me, and it was pretty cool stuff! Almost zero Joey Lawrence content, though.

    I would say we came across very well in the piece. The Netflix bit was great, too.

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