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Home Forums General Discussion Science on TV

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 57 total)
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  • #6291
    Mike Meynell
    Moderator
    Topics: 119
    Replies: 756

    Right, well I’ve arrived in Geneva for the tour of CERN on Saturday, and I’m sitting in the hotel bar with a large Braugold in hand… and I feel it’s time for a rant.

    The previous threads about the Sky at Night have prompted this. Brian and Tej, this is your fault ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I have to say that I’m getting sick of the way that science is portrayed on TV nowadays. It seems that no concept can be explained without resorting to flashy graphics and overbearing background music. Programmes always seem to underestimate the intelligence of their audience, resorting to dumbed-down descriptions of scientific principles. Use the proper terminology for heavens sake… is that too much to ask?

    When I was watching science programmes growing up, the subjects were challenging. You didn’t understand everything, but that was the whole point. It motivated you to find out more. Nowadays, programmes seem to be pure eye candy. All entertainment and no education.

    I’m not including The Sky at Night in this criticism. For years it has been one of the few (only?) science programmes that hadn’t been dumbed down… due mostly, I suspect, to Patrick Moore’s resistance to any change. It’s just that recently, I’ve seen some worrying signs that this may be changing… and we must be vocal in our criticism, lest we lose all that was great about this superb TV institution.

    Anyway, rant over. Second beer ordered. World Cup beckons! ๐Ÿ™‚

    #6292
    Andy Sawers
    Moderator
    Topics: 127
    Replies: 602

    So you’re not a fan of The Great British Bake-Off, then… ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Or The Big Bang Theory?

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 6 months ago by Andy Sawers.
    #6294
    Mike Meynell
    Moderator
    Topics: 119
    Replies: 756

    Ha! Big fan of Mary Berry, me ๐Ÿ˜‰

    #6298
    Brian Blake
    Participant
    Topics: 188
    Replies: 409

    It’s The Big Bang Theory for me.

    #6300
    Brian Blake
    Participant
    Topics: 188
    Replies: 409

    Hi Tej Read your recent posts on Sky at night. It is true to say that the information being imparted by the programme is useful and informative but I do have to agree with Mike about the risk of dumbing down. I find Maggie’s style irritating. I feel that she thinks she is talking to children rather than adults. I would point out she kept going on about going to the moon again as if she was dealing with children. There is no doubting that she is a very skilled and knowledgeable scientist but her delivery leaves a lot to be desired.

    The use of other scientists could potentially provide a very interesting addition to the programme. In my opinion there is a lack of actual astronomy content now in the programme. This could be because there is an astrophysicist leading the team.

    On to science programmes in general. First of all Mike was that beer strong? I do agree though that there has been a general dumbing down. I get fed up with the shots of people driving along roads or walking passed scenery. I have not seen any programme recently that has imparted me any new knowledge. One thing I do think is good is the use of more women in the programmes. My last broadside Stargazing Live is the worst example of this dumbing down, it is appalling.

    #6330
    Tej
    Participant
    Topics: 39
    Replies: 597

    Hi Brian, Mike

    I completely understand your POV but as per Mike’s sadistic wishes for war, I shall draw my sword…Oh blast its stuck…no wonder it was so cheap. Right, fists it is then!

    Actually, I dont think there is much we really disagree on in terms of our interpretation of what the program delivers. Its a matter of what kind of audience the program is pleasing/targeting and that I see is both your major concerns. Our debate comes down to who should this program be targeted at? Well I think its aimed at an expanded audience that STILL includes the original core audience of budding amateur astronomers and even hardcore like yourselves (yeah, I’m looking at you Brian and Mike, and dont protest at my calling you hardcore ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) but also those that are fascinated by the mysteries and discoveries of the universe but do not have any intention or time to dabble in the field practically. I believe that latter is the bigger audience, I could be wrong but I just feel that is the case. I only started doing practical astronomy from January last year. Before that, I simply loved watching all things cosmos on television and DVD since I was a teen. So for most of my life I was that latter non amateur audience. SO I appreciate the layman terms of the program’s presentation. Brian, you mention that the content is nothing that you dont know already but surely the content is still fascinating and potentially new to most non amaetur astronomers (whom might be the majority viewers)? From the last couple of episodes, I am sure some of the content would have intrigued some young people, who knows, one will go on to solve the riddle of why the sun is such a perfect sphere ๐Ÿ™‚

    However, I do agree that it sometimes seems a bit Playschool but for me, its a minor thing and I wouldnt be too worried about that. The program is still finding its feet. Brian, you mention Maggie talking to us like children (by the way, I loved that she was putting her hand up to go to the moon, I like these little character moments) but if you cast your mind back to the first few episodes when Lintott and Lucy co-hosted, it was somewhat worse! The program would begin with them saying “hello” in unison followed by “Tonight..” and I always half expected them to say “…guess which window we’ll be looking through today…what’s that Big Ted?…ah we’re looking through the round window!”. They’re presentation was quite condescending BUT they improved. They stopped doing that. I think either they are getting feedback from viewers and heeding them or they simply watched themselves and cringed.

    And so they will continue to iron out those little irritations…if they get feedback that calls their attention to these niggles and concerns (perhaps we should all write to them with constructive criticism?).

    Well, I havent laid any punches methinks, (sorry to dissapoint you, Mike!) as I pretty much agree with the concerns, I am perhaps just more optimistic that it will settle down to satisfying most of us. It wont be the great institution that it once was under the irreplaceably Patrick Moore but I think it still hold its head up high for effort to deliver.

    Oh one major criticism I do have is that there are way way too many sub presenters. I do not like too many presenters scattered around every 4 or five episodes. When I watch a series I want to feel at home with them. I want them to become family. For most of my life, I looked forward to my monthly visits to “Grandpa” Moore’s house. He was literally my virtual Gandpa. But two Chris’s, Paul, Pete (and to extent, John Culshaw who was essential because he represented the majority viewers, like myself who wants to know more!), they were also family and when “grandpa” passed on, they all looked like they were homeless for a year but I too loved sharing that with them throughout the last year while they still delivered good informative content. But this year’s reset bothers me with the “too many cooks”. That would be my only major gripe at the moment as well as sympathising with your (Mike, Brian’s) concerns on the program potentially “dumbing down”. To be honest, for me personally, I dont want the program to get hardcore for amateur astronomers. During the 70s/80s/90s it was an essential program for amateur astronomers but today we live in an age where we can learn the details on internet, books and societies such as Flamstead that welcomes everyone, including a dodgy Peckham boy like myself. The program should serves to stimulate interest in the genre and not get into the nitty gritty of say, building your own telescope or go into the actual chemical compositions of a planet or moon. But its should highlight the major intrigues in a very engaging way.

    Perhaps its the word “engaging” that is splitting our opinions? Totally understand the marmite effect of Maggie but wasnt it the same with Patrick Moore and his motor delivery (in all honesty, I missed his prime motor speed delivery as I think he slowed it down when I began watching in the late eighties).

    #6334
    Brian Blake
    Participant
    Topics: 188
    Replies: 409

    Tej I am Hardcore. I appreciate your views and can see where you are coming from. I do think though that there could be a bit more stuff that is of a higher level as that can inspire people to find out more. The universe is constantly showing us more fascinating things and I believe that all science programmes should be designed to raise peoples interests and knowledge. For example in the past if a programme was on a subject I did not know or was of a higher level than I had reached it excited and motivated me to develop my understanding. Current programme do not do that. Oh by the way I used to be a martial arts instructor.

    #6336
    Mike Meynell
    Moderator
    Topics: 119
    Replies: 756

    … martial arts!!! I’m pretty good at origami… does that count ๐Ÿ˜‰

    #6339
    Mike Meynell
    Moderator
    Topics: 119
    Replies: 756

    Just thinking this through again… and realised one of the things I miss. In fact, a few of us were chatting about this in the bar of a Geneva hotel on Friday evening!

    It’s the Open University on late night TV! I used to love watching those programmes… even if it was about a topic on which I knew absolutely nothing, and therefore completely over my head. You’d always pick up some snippet of information… it was great stuff. Maths programmes, in particular, were a scream… if only to review to wide range of tweed jackets with elbow patches that were on display!!

    Such a shame that the OU don’t make this stuff anymore… and an even bigger shame that the old programmes have been taken off of TV and can only now be viewed if you sign up to a course, when you receive them on DVD.

    #6340
    Andy Sawers
    Moderator
    Topics: 127
    Replies: 602

    You miss the flowery shirts with the lapels the size of Amazonian butterflies, don’t you!

    #6341
    Mike Meynell
    Moderator
    Topics: 119
    Replies: 756

    How did you guess?

    Actually, it’s this I miss the most:

    Open University Fanfare

    #6342
    Mike Meynell
    Moderator
    Topics: 119
    Replies: 756

    How about this programme?

    Non-Euclidean Geometry

    What are the chances of seeing something like this on TV nowadays? I rest my case m’lud.

    #6401
    Andy Sawers
    Moderator
    Topics: 127
    Replies: 602

    You may or may not know that Fox TV and the National Geographic channel have remade (and renamed) the 1980 Carl Sagan series, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. I haven’t seen any of it apart from a couple of clips, but I fear it’s going to be even more full of American gush than the original. The cartoons used to show historical events and people look like rejects from the Hanna-Barbera school of animation, though that’s possibly terribly unfair of me.

    Seth Macfarlane – he of ‘Family Guy’ and ‘Ted’ fame – is an executive producer. Of course there’s no reason why a funny guy can’t also do science (just ask Jon Culshaw and Dara O’Briain). No doubt the series will make its way over to this side of the pond and we can all give it a fair viewing – though I recommend taking precautions to ensure you don’t kick your television while watching it.

    Anyway – the series has just won an award for ‘Best Reality Series’ – which I suspect probably confused many US viewers as they don’t recall even getting the chance to phone in their vote to keep Pluto as a planet…

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 5 months ago by Andy Sawers. Reason: tagging
    #6409
    Mike Meynell
    Moderator
    Topics: 119
    Replies: 756

    Oh no! I had no idea they’d remade Cosmos… what on Earth do they think they can add?

    Thanks for the “heads-up” on this one, Andy. I shall avoid like the plague!

    #6416
    Tej
    Participant
    Topics: 39
    Replies: 597

    Its presented by Neil Degrasse Tyson who seems to be the American equivalent of Prof Brian Cox in terms of a mainstream Tevision/cosmology authority presenter. He was apparently a “prodigee” of Carl Sagan…although I say that word very very loosely as Sagan did indeed pick him out for apprenticeship but I am not sure to what extent was he a so called “prodigee” some claim him to be. However, Tyson always seem to make much of this and this series is co produced by Carl Sagan’s wife so obviously she is giving her blessing.

    I have seen Tyson lectures and guest presenting on American space documentaries such as their “The Universe” series and it is quite noticeable how he tries to channel Sagan’s poetic delivery complete with dramatic pauses.

    I personally do not like his style but I appreciate that a large American audience love his delivery and candidness…which is a good thing for this field we love. I just dont take to him. One American authority I do love to watch (apart from the legendary Sagan) is Dr Michio Kaku. Now that guy has an abundance of charisma and commanding style of presentation. But Tyson…nah. Give me Mike’s ranting, far more entertaining!

    Cosmos, has been on for about four weeks now on Sky National Geographic but I do not have Sky. Despite what I said about Tyson, I am still looking forward to seeing the series when it arrives on Bluray. I will first borrow it through Lovefilm and if I enjoy it, will buy the box set as I do with other series I enjoy such as the “Wonders of…” series, “Universe” and “Stephen Hawkins Universe” and “Through the Wormhole” (Mike, hope you got the vomit bucket as the last one was presented by a Hollywood actor!) I know you guys cringe at the modern CGI effects but I love watching these sort of big productions in HD on my 60″ TV.

    However, handsdown the best scientific/astronomy programs that truly engage and absorb me the most are our British productions such as almost every Horizon episode, the several mini series that Jim Al-Khalili done, Brian cox’s series etc. There is a stark contrast between American and and British productions of the same material. Generally, American series has a heavy emphasis on making everything dramatic to a point of overkill, they rush their narrative and the narrator are almost always too raw in their delivery with sometimes overused hollywood soundtracks. But the BBC productions are far more classier in their delivery. The narrators or presenters speak proper English for a start ๐Ÿ˜‰ But more importantly what I love is the way they present a “mystery” by slowly unravelling clues and slowly building a crescendo to a revelation climax/conclusion. Almost every Horizon is like watching a detective movie. I just love the way the British does it. I do love the glitz of the American productions too despite the “over-cooking” but for me it just makes for a nice contrasting mix ๐Ÿ™‚

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