[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index][Subject Index][Author Index]
Re: Seven Rules for Making a Science Documentary
The Calculus of Science Documentaries
Regarding the production of science documentaries, it's all about
making money, remember. Producers decide on matters of content
(e.g., dinosaurs) and delivery vehicle (e.g., Nigel Marvin) as
Science documentary producers try to maximize profit (ROI, or Return
on Investment) derived from some carefully-targeted set V of viewer.
It takes financial investment to create a program. Producers do not
merely try to maximize |V| i.e., the size of set V. They also tune
their product (the documentary) to target a particular demographic.
They seek an audience that is both large AND willing to spend their
money on the products of their sponsors. To attract this
demographic, what sells?
1) science sells [= attracts science-predisposed viewers, call that
set S]. S is a subset of V. That is, some members of V are not
really members of S, but landed on a given channel and think Nigel is
fun to watch. They are really members of set P (see below). Note
that to the extent that science sells, dinosaurs really sell.
2) personality sells [= attracts some other set of viewers, call
that set P]. Note that sets P and S are distinct, but not disjoint,
i.e. some members of S are also members of P, but |P| >> |S|.
3) sex sells. That's always there in show biz. Just think about
"derring do", of wrestling crocodiles, and pith helmets, and safari
jackets, and of course, some people find intelligent, witty people
attractive. But it might really be just the safari jackets.
Producers understand that as the scientific content (selling point 1,
above) is increased, |S| tends to increase but |V| tends to decrease,
other factors remaining constant. Too much science puts off some
people. In the limit, as the scientific content is maximized, V
reduces to roughly S (where |S| = |DML| approximately). So science
is introduced, but in moderation.
On the other hand, increasing personality (selling point 2, above)
might turn off some diehard members of set S. This is attested by
some recent DML postings to this thread.
Producers know what they are doing. As a consultant/talking head in
a dozen dinosaur-related documentaries (BBC's WWD, Discovery, NHK,
etc.) I have found that most (but not all) producers are open and
explicit that their game is to maximize ROI. While the sound guy
threads the lapel microphone inside my shirt, I've been reminded to
keep it simple, not use big words, and always look excited and
dramatic. "Give the viewer no reason to go to the refrigerator" was
a recent admonishment.
My advice to the DML is for you individually to maximize the ROI.
It's your hour to invest, either in watching the dinosaur show, or
American Idol if that's on at the same time, or to contribute to the
DML, or to share with your kids, whatever.
Bottom line: dinosaur shows are not meant for you, the members of
S. They are meant for ROI.