Sneak peek: PBS, Nat Geo’s “Genius by Stephen Hawking”

Ahead of the premiere of Genius by Stephen Hawking (pictured) on PBS and Nat Geo Channels Int'l, realscreen speaks with Bigger Bang co-founders Iain Riddick and Ben Bowie about the six-part popular science series.
May 17, 2016

Do ordinary individuals have the ability to grasp history’s greatest scientific discoveries and truly think like a genius? That’s the premise behind PBS’ forthcoming Genius by Stephen Hawking from Bigger Bang, the London-based factual shingle headed by former Darlow Smithson execs Ben Bowie and Iain Riddick.

The six-part factual and popular science series, which is presented and narrated by the renowned theoretical physicist, will feature three ordinary individuals enduring a variety of large-scale experiments, demonstrations and stunts to comprehend molecular biology, astrophysics and quantum mechanics.

Each hour-long installment revolves around answering one fundamental question that humans have been struggling to understand for thousands of years by leading participants through a five-step journey of discovery to an end revelation. The series will look to resolve such queries as whether we can travel through time; the likelihood of alien life in the universe; figuring out where the universe came from; why we exist as human beings; discovering what humans are through evolution; and where are we in the universe.

“When you go through the process of asking ‘Are we alone?’ you come to this amazing realization about ourselves, which is breathtaking – it either upsets you deeply or makes you feel terribly special,” Riddick told realscreen. “It’s actually binary, we’ve found that people are either very depressed about it or excited by it.”

In an effort to overcome the most difficult aspect of developing the science demonstration program – proving the principle – the production team equipped themselves with a group of experts and scientists to ensure each step could be proven through proof of concept.

bigger bang's iain riddick (left) and ben bowie (right)

Bigger Bang co-founders Iain Riddick (left) and Ben Bowie (right)

“We managed to get evolution to happen in front of us in three hours. It wasn’t organic evolution in that it’s not the evolution of a creature, but it’s true evolution in terms of replication and selection pressure,” Riddick says. “We basically got something to evolve, with no design, to do something that it wasn’t designed to do.”

The interactive program will not only allow audiences to follow along, but will encourage participation through social media campaigns surrounding Genius. Viewing participants will be asked to share their answers to each episodic question across a variety of social media platforms while also engaging via behind-the-scenes clips and graphics set to roll out on PBS’ social portals ahead of each episode.

“The key thing for us is this ‘play along’ – it feels very different to other science documentaries because often it’s big blue-chip science where you’re told the information, whereas in this case it’s about audience interaction,” added Bowie.

“That’s really key because it’s infused with fun, humanity and warmth, but totally profound and will change the way you see the world, yourself and the universe.”

PBS will premiere the series on Wednesday (May 18) with back-to-back episodes beginning at 9 p.m. EST/PST, and will broadcast the same way on May 25 and June 1. National Geographic Channels International, as PBS’ international broadcast partner, will roll out the series in 170 countries and 45 languages throughout the remainder of May.

While the company has previously produced CuriosityStream’s Destination Mars, as well as PBS and NGCI’s Hubble’s Cosmic Journey and Mission Pluto, Bigger Bang’s ethos is not genre specific. Instead, it’s a philosophy geared towards looking at producing series covering subject matter that is big, bold and important.

“It’s not about trying to get people to remember things,” Riddick explains. “It’s about trying to put things in their head that they’ll never forget.”

  • Genius by Stephen Hawking premieres on PBS on Wednesday (May 18) at 9 p.m. EST/PST.
  • Check out a sneak peek below.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.