PBS has chosen Wired Science for production as an ongoing series, according to multiple sources involved in the competition among three series pilots that aired in January.
The show, slated to debut in the fall, is the first to be born out of CPB’s primetime research project. PBS declined to comment on the pick; it may announce its decision as soon as this week, a spokeswoman said.
The 60-minute newsmag, produced by KCET in Los Angeles and Condé Nast’s Wired magazine, based in San Francisco, translates the tech monthly’s leading-edge graphics and hip intelligence into breezy television.
It beat out two other pilots: Science Investigators, co-produced by Lion Television (History Detectives) and Boston’s WGBH, and 22nd Century by Boston Science Communications Inc. and Towers Productions in collaboration with Twin Cities Public Television.
The innovative pilot competition stemmed from CPB research suggesting new science programming would appeal to a young, tech-savvy audience.
In addition to launching a series, the process itself is a pilot of sorts, serving as a new research-driven way to create national public TV programs, says Nicholas Schiavone, the consultant and former head of NBC Research who developed CPB’s primetime research strategy.
“It’s intended to be a model of an informed selection process,” he says.
PBS received 19 show proposals and whittled them down to four. The fourth contender, National Geographic Television, withdrew from competition. PBS funded the three pilots and scheduled them in January, while offering online streams via PBS.org/science and free podcasts. (All three remained available online as of last week.)
The network commissioned minute-by-minute Nielsen reports during the broadcasts and CPB sponsored additional research about the pilots, including quantitative surveys of viewer reactions plus viewer interviews and focus groups for a deeper qualitative view.
Nikhil Swaminathan, a blogger for Scientific American magazine, liked the “pithy, sarcastic” style of Wired Science. Pubradio science journalist Bruce Gellerman, writing in Current (Feb. 12), thought Science Investigators had a better mix of science and entertainment.
Producers of the winning pilot will receive research data to help them mold the show to meet viewer expectations and values, Schiavone says.
PBS also sought feedback from its 4,000-member online viewer panel and encouraged viewers to weigh in online about their favorites.
“We’re thrilled. . . . We learned a lot from the responses to the site we built for the pilot,” says Jackie Kain, v.p. for new media at KCET, who will oversee Wired Science’s web presence. “We got wonderful direct feedback from viewers.”
The final choice among the pilots was left to PBS programmers, Chief Content Officer John Boland said last year.
As winner of the pilot competition, Wired Science appears to be eligible for funding from CPB’s Opportunity Fund, created 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.
“We felt like [the competition] is a healthy way to make programming decisions,” says Chris Bryson, e.p. of Science Investigators.
“It was a fair process and the feedback we got at all stages was constructive,” Bryson says.
PBS’s Wilson told Current in December that the winning pilot would include 10 episodes in its first season, after which network programmers would evaluate its performance before approving 20 more episodes.
This article has been corrected. The series' first season won't be funded out of CPB's annual $22.5 million National Program Service grant to PBS, as a CPB spokeswoman had said.
Web page posted April 24, 2007
Copyright 2007 by Current Publishing Committee