It may not be to everyone’s taste, but the edgy direction in which Simon Andreae, head of science at UK-based broadcaster Channel 4, has taken science programming has reaped rewards. The Boy Who Gave Birth to His Twin, a one-hour show on the new ‘BodyShock’ strand, about a seven-year-old who was ‘pregnant’ with a parasitic twin, garnered 5.5 million viewers in primetime and was the highest-rated science program ever on C4. ‘The first run of ‘BodyShock’ at the end of last year broke all records for science at C4,’ says Andreae. ‘It’s been a good, growing year for science audiences.’
The ‘BodyShock’ strand is part of a reorganization for single science docs, in which programming is divided into three strands, including the currently running ‘Equinox’ and ‘Sexology’, which launches this fall. Though each are topically different – ‘BodyShock’ covers extreme human science, ‘Equinox’ covers front-page science stories such as sars and ‘Sexology’ deals with contemporary human sexuality – they share a common thread: science with attitude.
With Andreae at the helm, C4 science programs are melding scientific knowledge with the entertainment-oriented sensibilities of TV and film. While some may view the airing of a live autopsy, as in last year’s special The Autopsy, as potentially exploitive, Andreae emphasizes that the educational aspect is paramount. ‘Our task is to provide an overt knowledge transfer, wrapped up in a package that people are going to want to watch,’ he explains. ‘It’s got to look cool, it’s got to be fresh and it’s got to deliver the information. If we can do things that feel like Sex and the City or X-Men, then maybe that’s a place to find inspiration.’
Meanwhile, with ‘BodyShock’s success in primetime, science formats have moved to a later timeslot, from 8 pm to 9 pm, so Andreae is looking for riskier programming in this area as well. ‘We’re looking for high-rating shows that are edgy and, in particular, character-driven,’ he says. ‘We want to find broad science subjects – the human body, zoology or astrobiology – and find a scientist who is new to tv but intensely charismatic and impassioned about the subject, with an individualistic slant.’
The new 3 x 50-minute Mutants and the offbeat series Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation, exemplify the emphasis on charismatic presenters. Mutants, a Tiger Aspect production for C4 and Discovery Channel US which airs on C4 in July, follows developmental geneticist Armand Leroi as he investigates genetic mutations such as Cyclops babies and giants, in order to better understand the human body.
Dr. Tatiana, which premieres later this year, is based on the eponymous book by evolutionary biologist Olivia Judson, which provides ‘sex advice for all living creatures.’ The three-parter, a copro with Discovery Health Channel US and Discovery Canada, stars a singing and dancing Judson giving sex advice to people dressed up as animals. No, really. ‘It’s a bit like Sex and the City meets The Lion King,’ says Andreae. ‘It’s all those issues about what a male’s like, what a female’s like, but it’s set in the animal world. And the animals are actually people dressed up as animals and they sing songs. It’s a very unusual take on zoology, but I hope it’ll be edgy and popular.’
Andreae also welcomes event programming in the vein of The Autopsy, and plans to do about six per year. One such upcoming special is the in-development, Mentorn-produced Futurehuman, which will feature Autopsy’s Professor Gunther Von Hagens in a project to redesign a human body that will then be showcased at the Science Museum in London. The program hinges on getting a suitable donor body and though Andreae says Von Hagens’s father is interested, they must wait, of course, until he dies.
‘We’ve assembled a panel of clinicians and evolutionary biologists to tell us what the human body would look like had evolution been more effective,’ says Andreae. ‘It’s not about what we would look like in the future, but if we could be better designed now using existing organs.’
Andreae says there’s really no topic he would shy away from, and would like to do more on geology and chemistry. ‘The trouble is: how do you make a really experimental, edgy, blockbuster series about chemistry? If somebody can solve that, I’ve got a million pounds for them immediately.’