It seems the public has a renewed interest in seeing science shows on TV networks other than just PBS or The Science Channel. While the latter cable channel has captured a loyal audience with such shows as “Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman”, it also assumes that you know a little about science first in order to appreciate the programming. You might even have some household members who complain when you turn it to The Science Channel. That family member may claim they have no idea what anyone’s talking about on “Wormhole”, despite the show’s attempts to make it understandable.
Yes, it’s true that you need a bit of intellect to watch “Wormhole” or any other science show there or anywhere else. The good news is that Morgan Freeman assumed that most people are smart enough to put their mind gears into the right mode to assimilate the theoretical science presented. But that’s also a major difference from Fox’s revived “Cosmos” series. In the latter, we see a new vision of the science show that presents things not taught enough and all real. It’s managed to bridge a gap between what we can’t understand from what we all should know.
If you’ve seen any of the outstanding episodes of “Cosmos” this TV season, then you know about their incredible stories of scientists that have been forgotten with time. In fact, those tales are so incredible that it almost seems criminal they’ve only been primarily known by scientists until now. Everyone from Giordano Bruno, Clair Patterson, to Cecilia Payne and Annie Jump Cannon are now late household scientist names after only being spoken in scientific circles for decades.
Along with that, “Cosmos” has helped the average viewer think about the impact of science and what might be possible later without needing mathematical explanations. That’s a rare feat in science programming only seemingly possible from the pen of Carl Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan. She may have to win an Emmy for bringing some of the best writing on TV.
The only question is whether people want more of this approach to science on TV, or if they truly want to be challenged with more theoretical concepts. It’s hard to believe that a new show could ever challenge “Through the Wormhole”, yet that and “Cosmos” have set two very different paths for the future of scientific TV.
Being Challenged While Not Really Understanding
Those who’ve ever read Stephen Hawking’s first book “A Brief History of Time” might remember plenty of reader comments on places like Amazon.com stating how they could barely finish the book if at all. Others would say that while they were able to finish the book, they still had the feeling they only understood the concepts vaguely.
When it comes to theoretical science, those not versed in science can only perhaps think they understand a concept when they may actually not. Some theoretical concepts can only be really understood with some elements of math rather than thinking about them abstractly. Shows like “Wormhole” work much the same way for average viewers. Even if they felt the viewing was worth the effort, conveying complete understanding is the biggest challenge for the writers on that show.
“Cosmos” goes strictly for digging out profound facts and conveying them in a way that incites epiphanies. Many of the episodes even set off an idea that can help people think on their own and come up with mind-busting thoughts they wouldn’t ordinarily think about.
After “Cosmos” ends its first season, we’ll have to wait and see whether the approach will set off a new wave in scientific shows being more accessible or going for the challenging jugular. We might be better off having the former approach in order to persuade our own thoughts about the world around us. It was the really the way Albert Einstein started on his long journey into figuring out one of the greatest scientific concepts of all time.