Having worked for Thirteen/WNET and WGBH and coming from a background in science programs, Optomen Productions (USA)’s president and CEO, Beth Hoppe, is serious about smart programming. Recently, Hoppe spoke with realscreen about her passion for science and how it may have saved the life of an Animal Planet exec.
Hoppe believes there is a distinct lack of smart programming on TV. Her passion is smart science with an entertaining twist, and though she has seen less of this type of programming on television than she would like, she is slowly seeing more networks take it on. For instance, she was delighted to see History commission Evolve, Optomen’s 11-part series explaining the evolution of organs such as eyes and jaws. The series received an Emmy nomination this year for Outstanding Science, Technology and Nature Programming, while Optomen’s two-hour special for Discovery, Are We Alone? was nominated for Best Earth Science Program at the 2009 Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. All in all, it’s solid proof that Hoppe’s approach to science is working.
‘My big thing about science is that I want to see more of it on TV,’ says Hoppe. ‘I really, truly believe that TV can be smart and still be entertaining.’
She cites other examples of how her prodco has tried to achieve this aim through series such as Most Evil for Discovery Channel and Investigation Discovery, which sees scientists rank serial killers on a scale of evil, ranging from one to 22. She admits this may sound sensational, but at the core of the program is a good look at psychology and human behavior. ‘We tried to have two solid science sequences in every show,’ says Hoppe of the program.
And then there’s the prodco’s recent parasite project for Animal Planet, Monsters Inside Me. The series, which tells the personal stories of people who have been affected by parasites did more than just deliver scientific facts in an interesting way; it may have saved the life of the Animal Planet exec who commissioned the program. One day Hoppe received a call from an Animal Planet VP of development. He was calling to thank her. ‘He said, ‘Your rough cut saved my life,” remembers Hoppe. Watching the program depict the effects of different parasites, the exec began to recognize some of the symptoms. ‘He got himself to the doctor the next day and was diagnosed with a major protozoan infection,’ says Hoppe. ‘[He] literally believes that watching the show could have saved his life.’
Taking into account their life-saving talents, science programs aren’t all Hoppe and her team are good for. Looking to the future of Optomen USA, which launched out of Optomen Television in the UK in 2004, Hoppe sees room for growth in a range of entertainment series and formats in addition to science.
Currently the prodco is treading into its parent company’s territory, revamping Optomen UK’s BBC entertainment cooking format, Kitchen Criminals, for the Food Network. ‘Taking on the food show, which was an elimination reality show, was so different than any show that I’ve personally ever made and I’m so thrilled that it’s worked out as well as it seems to have,’ says Hoppe. The new version will be called Worst Cooks in America and is due to go out on Food Network in January. ‘It’s that thing of taking on something new, learning a new type of program. We’re open to it, so hopefully we can continue to grow.’