Tales From The Industry X – Wired Science

Well, there was something I could not tell you about before that I now can. There’s a new TV show called “Wired Science” about to launch. It is made by the PBS affiliate KCET, and will air on your local PBS station (on Wednesday, January 03, 2007, 8:00-9:00 pm ET/PT – double check for local times). It looks like it is going to be informative and fun!

wired science banner

Here’s some of their blurb from the press release:

WIRED SCIENCE is a one-hour program that translates Wired magazine’s award-winning journalism into a fast-paced television show. WIRED SCIENCE brings Wired magazine’s cutting-edge vision, stylish design and irreverent attitude to the screen with breakout ideas, recent discoveries and the latest innovations. The pilot episode takes the viewer into the world of meteorite hunters, where space, commerce and art intersect; travels to Yellowstone National Park to harvest viruses that may hold the key to a technology revolution; and dives underwater to explore NEEMO, NASA’s extreme astronaut training program. Viewers will meet rocket-belt inventors, stem cell explorers and the developer of an electric car that goes from zero-to-60 in under four seconds. As a series, WIRED SCIENCE hopes to span the globe to uncover novel developments in biomedicine, space exploration, artificial intelligence, neuroscience, robotics and military technology.

wired_sciecne_trailerAnd you can go to the site to see stills from some of the location work they did in making the show, and some of the studio work too. You can go to this Wired blog post to see the rather nice title sequence of the show, and the teaser trailer. To the right, there’s a screen shot I made just now (click for larger)

I don’t think that they have the go ahead to make a full series yet. This is a pilot. I imagine that whether they get the full series go ahead depends upon whether it is well liked and supported by you, the viewer. I’d say support it. the people behind it really care about getting good science programming out to you.

So what’s the big deal? Why did I not tell you about it if I’ve known about it for so long? Well, nobody told me not to tell you, but it seemed the right thing to do. You see, I have a little secret. How do I put this? I’m going to get so beaten up in the playground for this.

Ok, here goes. I auditioned to be one of the presenters for the show. Wait, wait, don’t get all excited. I did not get it, as you can tell by looking at the trailer. (Never let it be said that I only bring you good news.) …And I’m happy to see that the people who did get it are sufficiently young, hip, smart, handsome, cute, experienced, whatever, and so forth, to make me not feel bad for being passed over. I was clearly outclassed by quite a margin. They are, quoting from the blog site:

—Brian Unger, of NPR, Olbermann, and The Daily Show; Ziya Tong, host of the Canadian science show Zed; and Aomawa Shields, who wrote “Universe: The Sequel” in the book She’s Such a Geek: Women Talk about Science, Technology, and Other Nerdy Stuff. Oh, and there’s me. Adam Rogers. Senior editor at Wired.

Strangely enough, I think I came rather close, though. I don’t know why. I suspect that the big guns who got it did not show up until much later in the process and simply blew me out of the water. That’s ok. It was a long shot anyway.

It all started while I was back in Aspen at the Center for Physics. You’ll recall some earlier reports from there. One of my peeps (yes, I really said peeps – I don’t know why) in the USC Cinema Television School sent me an email about the casting call and said -“You should do this. You’d be great.” I giggled like a schoolgirl, thanked her for being kind, and carried on doing physics.

Then I read what it was about, and it seemed that the program makers actually were interested in making a good science show. Well, you know me: when not being your standard Professor-type, I’m all about getting more science out there to the public, right? (I refer you to the about page if you’ve forgotten.)

So why not have a go? At the very least I’d learn a bit about how the Industry works, which will help me understand how shows are made and better understand how ideas actually make it from the start all the way to the eyes and ears of the audience. And as a bonus, I could report on it to you! It was a long shot, but I’d have fun doing it.

So I sent an email. Told them a bit about me…. and I got a reply immediately asking if I could come to the studio for an audition the day after. They wanted to get all their last auditions done that week. Problem: The studio is in Los Angeles (ironically, not a million miles, shall we say, from where I live) and I was in Aspen, Colorado. I’m not the “I’ll just hop on a plane and be there in the morning” sort. I’m not paid nearly enough for that. So there it goes, I thought – oh well. I told them thanks, but I could not make it. On the off chance, I mentioned that some video had been made of me not long ago talking about teaching, science, and research (part of USC’s experts directory project that they were building for program makers) – would they be interested in seeing it -if I could track it down? (My Industry friends tell me this is called “sending in a reel”.)

The reply came that they would be very interested, and could I send a cv as well? Huh. So I frantically (between seminars at the Aspen workshop) laid down a broad spread of calls and emails to lots of people at USC to figure out who last saw the video since it was made in 2004, where was it, and could I get an mp4 of it? Nobody knew where it was, for a while. Then a colleague and friend in one of the media relations offices managed to find a copy of it in the electronic equivalent of a dusty unused warehouse behind a box of old used toothbrushes. Nice. She sent it along and I forwarded it to the KCET producers.

That ought to do it, I thought. If that video does not kill the process, I don’t know what will. Well, it did not die. It would not die. A week later, they were still interested and wanted to know when I was coming back from Aspen. The following week I returned, started the semester, took an unusually close shave that Tuesday and hopped onto the Brompton and off to the studio. It’s a studio I pass so often and never thought I’d have any reason to go in there, so that was sort of interesting, since once you pass the gate of these studios (as I’ve since learned) it is like entering a different world – and this particular portal was relatively close to home.

(The Brompton was a hit. They’re not used to people showing up to the studio not in a car it seems, and certainly not on a bike, and definitely not a folding bike. One of the producers (I think) said “Look, he walks the walk!” Hey, she got it.)

I chatted for a long while with the main producer. Guess what? Turns out he was just as excited about the topics I like to go on about – yes, science and society, science education, science as culture, science as fun. So we bonded over that for a while, and then I was handed a sheet with some examples of blurb on it. I had to pick one and say it to camera.

Things like: “Hi! I’m (name) and welcome to Wired Science! Today at Wired Science, we asked the question: What really happens when you ….(blah blah blah)”. You get the idea.

I picked one and went with it. I also talked at length to camera about random things that interested me – I think so that they could see what I was like speaking off the cuff. He kept getting me to do the stock line over and over again, and I eventually realised (he confirmed this) that he was trying to get me to do it much BIGGER than I was doing it. Apparently television requires you to just go BIG in order to fit the format. A simple “Hi” won’t do it. You want a “HI!”, so that in TV world it will come out as “Hi”. I hope that makes sense. I suspect I was rather deficient in that area at the time, since I am much more comfortable with erring on the side of understating (yes, believe it or not). Since I did those spots on the other show I mentioned (here and here), I think I got on the job training about that. It’s certainly an interesting process.

Anyway, We all shook hands, chatted a bit more about stuff, I bonded a bit more with various people in the office about biking in the city and public transport issues, and I went back to my secret identity as physics Professor and told nobody. I did not hear from them again, so I was pretty sure of the result.

I learned from the producer that the show was being made in competition with a number of other shows made by other program makers for PBS. They were all to make pilots of different formats and PBS will pick the one it wants to make a full series. That was what I understood, and so I did not talk about the interesting audition process or the format of the show to you until I was sure that there was no danger of spoiling their project. (Don’t know what I was thinking… It’s not like anybody reads this blog except you and me, right?)

Today, I heard NPR advertising the show, so I thought I’d tell you about it. I really hope it’s a good show and get supported. The folks at the studio just seemed to have their hearts in the right place, and caring about getting the science “out there”. You’ve got to encourage that sort of thing.



P.S. I’ve since had another meeting about another show that is being cast, and I met some more excellent program makers as a result. That project is very exciting, with an excellent and fresh (as far as I know) format, and I suspect that it’s an even longer shot for me to get it (I’ll be blown out of the water once the big guns show up again) – but you never know. This one’s makers are more interested in having a real scientist as part of the format, so we shall see – Maybe they’ll put some vaseline on the lens just for me. I’ll have to shut up about it until next year.

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5 Responses to Tales From The Industry X – Wired Science

  1. spyder says:

    At least you weren’t in a runoff with Bill Nye. Of course the best possible future would include you in a TV drama, say Numbers, where you could actually provide real theoretical physics material.

  2. Supernova says:

    Wow, small world! I actually know Aomawa, or did briefly, back in that previous life called “grad school”. I had no idea she’d become such a (pardon the pun) star. Hooray! Now I’ll really have to watch.

    Sorry you didn’t get the gig, Clifford, but what a fun story!

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