Exclusive first-look: PBS pushes science with “Your Inner Fish”

Ahead of the premiere tonight (April 9) of paleobiology docseries Your Inner Fish (pictured), PBS programming chief Beth Hoppe outlines the science strategy behind the pubcaster's 'Think Wednesday' block.
April 9, 2014

PBS is bolstering its efforts to woo fans of natural history and science by adding an extra hour to its Wednesday night programming block.

Tonight (April 9), the U.S. pubcaster will premiere the three-part series Your Inner Fish, featuring paleobiologist and author Neil Shubin (pictured above). Produced by Tangled Bank Studios and Windfall Films, the miniseries is based on Shubin’s book of the same name and examines the ways human DNA is similar to shrew-like mammals that existed 165 million years ago.

It will debut in the third hour of PBS’s ‘Think Wednesday’ programming block, which also includes long-running wildlife and science strands ‘Nature’ and ‘Nova.’

Over the past four years, PBS has seen a 30% rise in viewership on Wednesday nights. The third hour is part of chief programming exec and general manager for general audience programming Beth Hoppe’s strategy to attract science and natural history viewers who feel alienated by once science-focused cable nets that have shifted their focus to reality TV.

“As those networks have moved away from their core programming, people are turning back to us,” she tells realscreen in an interview, adding that the 10 p.m. slot will be reserved for “forward-looking” programming that complements ‘Nature’ and ‘Nova.’

“We have different things coming up over the year. I would love it if any one of them became an ongoing series,” she adds. “What I’ve said to producers – some of whom took me way too literally – was it would be really fun to find the Antiques Roadshow of science.

“I said that and what happened was I got a pitch for, ‘We’ll have a roadshow where people come and bring scientific instruments in and experts will tell you the value,’” she continues. “What I meant was, is there something in the science space that is a format rather than a miniseries or an anthology?”

This summer ‘Think Wednesday’ will air My Wild Affair, a series in the human-animal relationship space about people who grew up in households that were¬† also home to exotic pets, such as rhinos and elephants.

“It gets into a little bit of new territory [for us],” says Hoppe. “Twenty years ago, the science told us those animals don’t have feelings. Now the science tells us they are way more sentient than we thought. We’re really trying to do programming that explores that theme in an accessible and entertaining way.”

Hoppe also plans to follow her counterparts in cable more aggressively into the live event space. PBS is in talks with Channel 4 to coproduce a “huge event” with a live element, and she is interested in finding a live performance along the lines of NBC’s live production of The Sound of Music.

“We won’t be jumping off mount Everest in squirrel suits,” she says. “I can tell you that.”

PBS has also poured marketing dollars into promoting ‘Think Wednesday’ off net. The campaign surrounding the night includes a website, out-of-home advertising in zoos across the U.S., and 30-second spots to air on other networks.

Watch an clip from Your Inner Fish, exclusive to realscreen, below:

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