Partnering with PBS: AHA Spreads the Word About Evolution Programs


Oct. 7, 2009

This fall, public television's long running science series NOVA will higlight evolution, as it airs three newly created programs about famed evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin and his work.

The shows are part of NOVA's celebration of the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, which is also the 150th anniversary of the publication of  "On the Origin of Species."  (Darwin was born on Feb. 12, 1809 and published his groundbreaking work in 1859.)

The films are: Darwin's Darkest Hour, which premiered on Oct. 6, Becoming Human, which will screen on Nov. 3, 10 and 17, and What Darwin Never Knew, slated to debut Dec. 29. Each will take a different approach to Darwin and the science of evolution.

NOVA is the highest rated science series on television and the most watched documentary series on public television.

Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association (AHA) has been invited to attend a pre-screening of Becoming Human, which will be held on Oct. 28 in Washington, D.C.

The AHA is helping NOVA to get the message out about the shows using a variety of tools: HNN, action alerts, its own web site, and the web site for the International Darwin Day Celebration Foundation, which AHA adminsters.

Darwin's Darkest Hour, the debut program which kicked off NOVA's new season, is a two-hour scripted drama produced by National Geographic Television which explores the human drama behind the birth of Darwin's theory of evolution. It depicts Darwin's inner turmoil as he tries to decide whether to publish his controversial ideas or to keep them quiet in order to avoid potential backlash from the Church – and from his wife Emma – a devout Christian.   

Becoming Human, the second program, is a three-part special on human evolution that focuses on the key questions surrounding what makes us human and how we got here. Each of the three programs in the series focuses on a fossil find of an ancient hominid ancestor and highlights both what the latest technology can tell us about our human past and how each new finding fits together with earlier ones to tell a compelling story of survival.

Finally, on Dec. 29, What Darwin Never Knew will be broadcast.  It is a two-hour special that explores the new science of evolutionary developmental biology, or "evo devo," which uses the revolution in the study of DNA to shed light on the inner workings of how species evolve – from the diverse living world Darwin knew – to the underlying world of genetics he could never have imagined.

Expecting strong interest, NOVA is setting up viewing parties for the evolution series. You can find out when the shows will be showing in your local area by clicking on this link.

As well as the television programming, Karen Laverty, NOVA online publicist, says that on Nov. 3, NOVA will launch a new beta Evolution web site with contributions from Carl Zimmer, a leading writer who covers evolution and biology, geneticist Sean Carroll, paleontologist Rick Potts and many others.

In addition, the Boston-based WGBH Lab has partnered with NOVA and PBS Engage to launch an "Open Call" on its website for user-generated content around the theme of evolution. The challenge to viewers is to create a three-minute video that offers a personal perspective on the world in which they live. Selected submissions may be presented, via broadcast and broadband, in conjunction with NOVA's spotlight programming on Darwin and evolution.

Paula S. Apsell, senior executive producer for NOVA, hopes that the end result of the programming will be that viewers will learn something new about evolution and become excited and inspired by how the theory impacts their daily lives and the world around them.

(Ruth N. Geller is the editor of the Humanist Network News.)