CBC’s Caroline Underwood talks programming science on-screen

With the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers (WCSFP) kicking off in Washington D.C. tomorrow, the senior producer at CBC (pictured) discusses the pubcaster's approach to science programming.
Caroline Underwood-1

With the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers (WCSFP) kicking off in Washington DC tomorrow (Nov. 27), CBC senior producer Caroline Underwood (pictured) discusses the pubcaster’s approach to science programming.

How many hours of science specials per year do you program?

We program 19 original hours per year for ‘The Nature of Things.’ We have done limited series, [and] this year it’s Yung Chang’s The Fruit Hunters. Often we launch the season with a limited series, as we did with the Geologic Journey series and One Ocean.

What’s the ratio between original productions, coproductions and acquisitions?

We have no acquisitions. The way we’re funded, our projects are either in-house – 20-25% – and all of the remaining are commissioned under the Canada Media Fund (CMF).

What has been your highest-rated science one-off this year?

For our 2011/2012 season, our highest-rated show was Journey to the Disaster Zone: Japan 3/11, in which we took David Suzuki to revisit Japan. It was a very personal story of David going back and looked more towards the future.

What’s your take on science versus entertainment?

A good doc is a good doc. It can be entertaining, thought-provoking, all of those things that engage viewers. I suppose some people think we’re more serious than not, but our storytelling has changed over the years as everybody’s has, to reflect the viewer’s expectations and the things that engage them.

Science storytelling has become much more sophisticated over the years and [with] ‘Nature of Things,’ this is our 52nd year so we’ve had a whole lot of practice.

Do you take unsolicited pitches?

Anybody can pitch us a story. We obviously prefer filmmakers who have some sort of experience but even scientists will send us story ideas.

Taken from realscreen magazine. The World Congress of Science and Factual Producers runs from Nov. 27-30 in Washington DC.