Tales From The Industry XXXII: A Matter of Time

patzcuaro_clocksHere are some clocks I saw at the House of Eleven Courtyards (Casa de los Once Patios) in the historic town called Pátzcuaro (at the aforementioned lake of the same name). It was a convent, and is now a place to go and see lots of arts and crafts in action, as well as buy some. The clocks, housed in copper, mark the entrance to an entire room of copper workmanship in various forms.

The clocks have reminded me to give you an update on something else. Through some of May and June, I did a lot of work for the show The Universe, which airs on the History Channel (as you probably already know from reading here over the years. See here.). There will be, as usual, several topics covered over the upcoming season, and it will be interesting to see how the various filmmakers put together their episodes. It is worth noting that the History Channel have done something remarkable here. This is now the longest run that any cable channel has had for a science show. They built an audience with a solid show, and kept producing good episodes and gathering more (and it is worth saying, an admirably diverse set of) viewers over the years.

In fact, the show has been so successful that they are going to, I predict, pay an interesting penalty for their success. Several other channels have been noticing that there’s a thirst for these sorts of shows, and (predictably and understandably) have been developing their own shows in direct response, to get a piece of the advertising action. At least two of these have rolled out recently, and rather than let the science alone be the headliner (as the History Channel has done), they’ve gone for the old model of having a Big Personality draw the audience. So there’s now a Stephen Hawking show and a Morgan Freeman show. I suspect that this might pull some audience away from The Universe as a result. On the other hand, I don’t know exactly how things will go scheduling-wise, so maybe people will just watch all of them. On a third hand, perhaps the winners are science on TV and the audiences who want to see more of it. I wish all the shows well. After all, there is certainly plenty of room, and it is good to see channels maneuvering over this type of program, raising the level in this genre above just blowing up pumpkins and so forth.

As usual, there’s a good mix of solid science in the episodes (aspects of the universe both near and far) as well as some of the more speculative material. I hope they are both treated well and carefully. When asked for my advice, any filmmaker tacking the more speculative stuff hears from me that they need to be extra careful not to mislead the public and confuse speculation and pure science fiction with actual established fact. Extraordinary claims, if made, should be backed up by extraordinary evidence, and so on an so forth. Some filmmakers get this, others don’t and think that their primary goal is to entertain at all costs. (There’s a third way, of course. Accuracy and entertainment are not mutually exclusive.) universe_time_shoot_2 I think that the people overseeing the production of the series have over the years done a good job of selecting the filmmakers that lean toward the former tendency as opposed to the latter, learning from mistakes here and there (you’ll recall my thoughts about one or two particular episodes from some years back – look through here).

universe_time_shoot_1There’s an episode discussing the nature of Time coming up, and I am sure you can guess that there’ll be quite a strong mixture of solid science with some wondering and speculation about what might be. I’m happy to note that they picked a filmmaker who is very good for handing this type of thing. Darryl Rehr works hard to understand the science as much as he can, doing a lot of research and having a lot of discussions with scientists before he starts making an episode treating a subject. (It sounds like an obvious thing to do, but believe me, this is still relatively unusual behaviour for science on screen.) I worked with him on the excellent and popular Light Speed Episode some years back, and we did some fun things together to illustrate the science. So I am hoping this is going to be a good episode.universe_time_shoot_3 I am not going to tell you a thing about the content (as usual) so you’ll have to wait for when it airs, but I’ll leave you with a few shots (look to the left – click to enlarge) from the set of a shoot we did in the heart of Los Angeles two weeks ago to enhance the episode, illustrating a concept I explained to camera. You may well be able to make some interesting guesses based on details you might spot in the pictures if you examine them closely.

You are welcome to speculate in the comments.

-cvj

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