Culture

Science on TV: An Interview with Ingrid Ockert

Historian of science and media Ingrid Ockert discusses the exact moment Carl Sagan began wearing turtlenecks, how NOVA changed television, and the key to any successful show: respect the audience.

Episode 243 | September 17, 2019

For almost as long as there have been television networks, science shows have been part of the TV landscape. But science programming didn’t begin by accident. At first it was a way for TV stations to build trust with their audiences; then it was used as a ploy to get families to buy more television sets. But as the world changed, so did science on TV. Distillations interviewed Ingrid Ockert, a fellow at the Science History Institute and a historian of science and media, about five key contributors to the science television landscape: the Johns Hopkins Science Review, Watch Mr. Wizard, NOVA, 3-2-1 Contact, and our favorite turtleneck-wearing celebrity scientist, Carl Sagan. Our conversation revealed that successful science shows have always had one thing in common: they don’t treat their audiences like dummies.