Wired Science, the hip new science show that beat out two other programs in a pilot competition, will debut this fall, the network announced May 1 . It also wins a rare chance at a long-term spot on the PBS schedule.
The program, co-produced by Los Angeles’ KCET and the Condé Nast tech monthly Wired, based in San Francisco, will debut Oct. 3 and air Wednesdays at 8 p.m. Eastern. PBS ordered 10 episodes and will evaluate the program’s ratings and audience impact during the run before committing to a full 20-episode season and beyond, says chief programmer John Wilson. Wired Science will be available online as well as on the schedule, he says.
The show emerged out of a project to create a science show targeting young, tech-savvy viewers identified by CPB’s primetime research as being “innovative” in their media consumption and “inclined” to watch and enjoy public TV.
The three competing shows aired in January and stayed online for streaming or download until PBS chose Wired Science. The others were Science Investigators, co-produced by Boston’s WGBH and Lion Television (History Detectives), and 22nd Century by Boston Science Communications Inc. and Towers Productions in collaboration with Twin Cities Public Television.
To inform its decision, PBS used minute-by-minute Nielsen ratings, online feedback—more than 7,000 viewers sent e-mails, Wilson says—and CPB-sponsored research about viewer attitudes and reactions. But the final call belonged to PBS programmers.
“Although all three of those pilots had positive feedback, Wired Science came out as a clear winner,” said John Boland, PBS chief content officer, in a Q&A interview, page A5. Viewers “liked the pace, the production values and very much liked the discovery element, and I think the Wired name is a factor.”
Some commenters complained that Wired Science felt choppy and included too many segments, Wilson says, but such problems are easily remedied without affecting the structure of the show. “It seemed like show closest to being ready to hit the air,” he says.
In addition, the Wired magazine’s “editorial bench strength” and ability to give the series “great exposure” within its pages and website gave the show an advantage the other programs didn’t have, he says.
That said, “this isn’t just a branding exercise,” says Melanie Cornwell, series e.p. for Wired. “We’re making a real commitment to produce something that is the same quality as the magazine.”
The producers will use the audience feedback and research to craft the series going forward. Future episodes may have longer and fewer segments. “Viewers were looking for a little more length in the segments,” says Karen Hunte, series developer and e.p. for KCET. “They equated more length to more depth of science content.”
There will also be some personnel changes. Brian Unger, one of the pilot’s hosts, left to host a show on the Discovery Channel, Hunte says. KCET is casting his replacement.
Also gone: Tod Mesirow, the pilot’s e.p. David Axelrod, senior producer on the pilot, will take over as the series e.p.
“I’m sorry not to be part of the series but wish it nothing but great success,” says Mesirow, now U.S. series producer for MythBusters, the popular urban-legend-debunking series on Discovery. KCET declined to comment on the switch.
PBS and the producers also aren’t saying how much the series will cost, but CPB’s Opportunity Fund is paying for the first run. CPB created the fund in 2005 to fuel primetime investments identified by the corporation’s research; this year’s CPB budget sets aside $9 million for the fund, covering the new science series and other projects. (The winning science pilot’s first season won’t be funded out of CPB’s $22.5 million National Program Service grant, as a CPB spokeswoman said mistakenly in Current April 23.)
If PBS picks up the series, ensuing seasons would be funded via a mix of the usual National Program Service sources, including station fees, foundation grants and corporate underwriting, Wilson says.
Producers of the rejected science pilots can license them elsewhere, but there are provisions in the productions agreements that would enable PBS to recoup its investment in the shows, a PBS spokeswoman says.
Web page posted June 19, 2007
Copyright 2007 by Current Publishing Committee