A short Twitter conversation the other night about Richard Hammond’s tv show Journey to The Centre Of The Planet had me musing on the state of science programming. It’s not great, to be blunt. Hammond’s show was damned by knowledgeable observers like X&HTeam-mate MadameWDW…
She echoed the consensus.
Science shows seem to fall into camps nowadays. You have the big specials, filled with expensive CGI and hosted by a housewives’ favourite, full of sound and fury and very little content. I’d roll the James May show where he plays with oversized Lego into this camp, too. You have shows like Spring/Autumnwatch, cosy and cute, slipping in odd bits of science amidst all the cute wittle chickywickies and a disturbingly gleeful focus on hedgehog poo.
Then you have Bang Goes The Theory, a more polite version of Discovery’s Mythbusters and a direct descendent of Hammond-hosted shows like Blast Lab and Brainiac. You could maybe parse two minutes of interest out of these shows. They’re light entertainment disguised with a white coat and protective goggles. Not that I have a problem with blowing things up on camera in the name of science, but the shows are painfully thin on actual content. Finally, god help us, the hipster Top Gear that is The Gadget Show. It’s thin gruel, but on occasion rolls out an innovation or two amidst the endless competitions and tests of the top five waterproof cameras.
There’s a hole in the schedule.
I mourn, Readership, for a memory. I mourn for a show that combined raffish charm with excitement and enthusiasm for the science of the day. I mourn for a show forged in the era of the white heat of technology, that is ever more needed in this most sciencefictional of centuries.
I miss Tomorrow’s World.
In the 60s, 70s and 80s, TW had the sort of sway, impact and viewership that was only topped by shows like Top Of The Pops. It was slick and glamourous, and not afraid to talk to it’s audience like grown-ups. It was wide-ranging, yet capable of bringing depth and focus to a subject when it was needed. It roamed the world, from the science parks and boffins of rural England to the rocket jockeys of the California deserts. In William Woollard it had a genuine, frequently shirtless sex symbol. In Raymond Baxter, a Chairman Of The Board, a smooth-talking master at the tricky job of making science approachable. You never felt you were being talked down to. Tomorrow’s World was pacy, newsy and in the right place at the right time. It was at the forefront of the computer boom of the early eighties, showed us the first home video cameras and recorders, and was all over the launch of the shuttle Enterprise. As Atlantis touched down for the last time, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge that the Tomorrow’s World team weren’t there to welcome it home.
As science becomes increasingly under threat from swivel-eyed fundamentalists and swingeing budget cuts, I think the time is right for a revival. A weekly science-based magazine show would be a great way to spark interest in the field. We need the legacy of Baxter, Woollard, Michael Rodd and the others more than ever. Let’s celebrate the world of tomorrow, with a show that will give us up-to-the-minute updates in the fast-moving field of science and technology. Boing Boing TV, anyone?
(Speaking of Boing Boing, they’ve posted some background to the picture that heads up this post. Short version: the lady, Jane Root, was a test subject into early prenatal gender screening in the 1950s. She’s just been told she’s having a girl.
I suggest that you show that picture to the next person that tries to tell you that science is a soul-less, uncaring endeavour, and then tell them to go gruff in a hat. I love this picture. And I fucking LOVE science.)