Live-Blogging The #ASC2012 – What’s The Buzz? What’s New In Science Televsion

It’s a session featuring Alison Leigh of the World Congress of Science & Factual Producers; Sonya Pemberton of Pemberton Films and chaired by Niall Byrne.

Niall is the creative director of Science in Public and admits that he’s astonished to hear of around 9 years for a film project. When he was involved with a science journalism conference, he was contacted by science and factual producers and went to their NY conference. It’s about a third out there who are buying or broadcasting and the rest are making the programs.

What’s the buzz? – is about the trends. Amazing TV that he hasn’t seen after one look at a pilot and many he has seen ended up on Aust TV many years later after seeing the initial screening – some were awful and yet won the ratings! For this session today, we’ll be getting a taste of the trends from last year’s conference in Paris (December 2011) and what might be coming up on Australian TV – the challenges and opportunities. Helps if you have a lot of money to get these kinds of shows done!

Alison will take us through the clips. Former producer of ABC science, producing the popular series like Quantum, Hot Chips and the now conference coordinator of the World Congress of Science & Factual Producers.

The whole world has gone for characters” – a host or the character that is the centre of the story at the film. Warm, cozy, friendly television (a white coat is not cool – but friendly is in). Topical has become a real buzz too – bold TV! High production and great storytelling.

Gives examples of the character-character-character who become the star of US television. Half are made by Discovery and National Geographic. Billy The Exterminator is an example - some are scientists, adventurers - boofy guys. Can deliver the science.

Sonya started in ABC science and specialist / factual TV, looking after science output, history, indigenous, education, religion. Produced many carbon shows, before Al Gore (I’ve even taught the documentary “How Kevin Bacon Cured Cancer”).

Now she’s an independent producer. Genepool is the only Australian science specific production company – a big parent co-parent company. “That’s all we’re doing – science television” - In 2011 one of Australia’s leading production houses Cordell Jigsaw Productions combined forces with acclaimed science specialist Pemberton Films to create a new joint venture, Genepool Productions. Won the national press club health prize for Immortal:

Immortal SBS & National Geographic, with December Films (2010)
Astonishingly, science has uncovered the key to endless life. The bad news is, it can kill you. Immortal reveals nature’s greatest double-edged sword, discovered deep within the DNA of humble pond scum. Professor Elizabeth Blackburn was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize for Medicine, this discovery is now transforming our approach to ageing, stress and cancer.

The clips which are shown is about the buzz globally – buzz is ratings and it’s one of the obvious measures of TV’s success. Driven by ratings and money – $25 thou an hour to produce, up to a million an hour. The US market is the biggest and the rest of the science producers are trying to get into that market. India and China are also very important. Science As Entertainment – even the big expensive ones have to look good, entertaining.

Brain Games on National Geo – magic and illusionists. Why did you fall for this trick – This is a show about attention and your brain. We’re going to mess with your mind.

Rocket City Rednecks – NASA scientists that behave like boofheads:

Richard Hammond’s Journey to the Centre of the Planet – Top Gear presenter and he’s very good. Warm, friendly and great graphics

Canada’s Greatest Know it All 

Everything You Need to Know – James May – started up as web and went to TV

The Boat that Guy built – host, motorcycle driver, builds a boat using old technology.

Indestructibles - Scientists look into the act of defying death in various situations by studying the people who survived.

These are high-end shows, rated well. In every case, it’s about engaging with the public in some way. That people love them, are engaged, is what’s wonderful. The wealth of talent and background is enviable. It changes – there’s a certain advantage in copying what’s being done but the films that Sonya write and direct are different. There are ones that can make over a certain time period. Often the copycats don’t work (Mythbusters clones just aren’t the same).

Topical and relevant – you may either commission something called fast turn around (e.g about the Japanese tsunami – some documentaries done in six weeks). Or, create a live event, create its own momentum. “Tolerance Day” in Germany – leading to “Tolerance Test” – the marketing and buzz around the 24 hours of tolerance and investigating prejudice and culture. Then Life After Death – the elephant – we’re watching decomposition! StarGazing Live – Brian Cox: “Professor Brian Cox and Dara O’Briain host three days of live stargazing.” The Cosmic Shore – Live From Space – a Japanese astronaut to the cosmic shore where earth meets space and films the things that have been not seen before. Live from studio to the atronaut.

One which had me in tears: Mummified Alan – seven years to make!

Character comes through – it’s absolutely critical. The science and the emotion; can’t do without character, it’s something to connect and travel with, otherwise it just becomes a lecture (not that lectures aren’t great too!) A vaccination film didn’t need a celebrity presenter (nameless) – rather than putting someone famous, the stories of the families were strong enough. Something to say and combining it with the interesting, clever, funny – laugh, cry and fall in love. The newest trend is the “Animal Big Brother” – the application of reality TV to science and natural history.

Is it TV becoming better or better communication of science? It’s needing to be noticed – two or three mega things that will hit all the mediums and big budgets are unfortunately needed.

Global, big, travel – or quintessential Aussie versions. Either really big or quirky, intimate and unusual. Global audience – needs it money domestically. People are interested in science tv – if there wasn’t a market, they wouldn’t do it! Delivered in all sorts of innovative ways.

New Project  to watch out for in 2012:  Jabbed – love fear and vaccines (SBS)

“Diseases that were largely eradicated forty years ago are returning. Across the world children are dying from preventable conditions because nervous parents are skipping their baby’s shots. And yet the stories of vaccine injury are terrifying, with rare cases of people being hurt, even killed, by vaccines. To vaccinate or not – how do we decide?”

 

About Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is a Philosophy teacher, media and psychology student, blogger at Patheos and podcaster at Token Skeptic. She has conducted over a hundred interviews including artists, scientists, politicians and activists, worldwide.
She’s the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website and travels internationally lecturing on feminism, skepticism, and science.


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