ⓘ Nova (American TV program)


ⓘ Nova (American TV program)

Nova is an American popular science television series produced by WGBH Boston since 1974. It is broadcast on PBS in the U.S., and in more than 100 other countries. The series has won many major television awards.

Nova often includes interviews with scientists doing research in the subject areas covered and occasionally includes footage of a particular discovery. Some episodes have focused on the history of science. Examples of topics covered include the following: Colditz Castle, Drake equation, elementary particles, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, Fermats Last Theorem, AIDS epidemic, global warming, moissanite, Project Jennifer, storm chasing, Unterseeboot 869, Vinland, and the Tarim mummies.

The Nova programs have been praised for their pacing, writing, and editing. Websites accompany the segments and have also won awards.


1. History

Nova was created on March 3, 1974, by Michael Ambrosino, inspired by the BBC 2 television series Horizon, which Ambrosino had seen while working in the UK. In the early years, many Nova episodes were either co-productions with the BBC Horizon team, or other documentaries originating outside of the United States, with the narration re-voiced in American English. Of the first 50 programs, only 19 were original WGBH productions, and the very first Nova episode, "The Making of a Natural History Film", was originally an episode of Horizon that premiered in 1972. The practice continues to this day. All the producers and associate producers for the original Nova teams came from either England with experience on the Horizon series, Los Angeles or New York. Ambrosino was succeeded as executive producer by John Angier, John Mansfield, and Paula S. Apsell, acting as senior executive producer.


2. Awards

Nova has been recognized with multiple Peabody Awards and Emmy Awards. The series won a Peabody in 1974, citing it as "an imaginative series of science adventures," with a "versatility rarely found in television." Subsequent Peabodys went to specific episodes:

  • "Spy Machines" 1987 was cited for "neatly recount into the future of American/Soviet SDI competition."
  • "The Elegant Universe" 2003 was lauded for exploring "sciences most elaborate and ambitious theory, the string theory" while making "the abstract concrete, the complicated clear, and the improbable understandable" by "blending factual story telling with animation, special effects, and trick photography." The episode also won an Emmy for editing.
  • "The Miracle of Life" 1983 was cited as a "fascinating and informative documentary of the human reproductive process," which used "revolutionary microphotographic techniques." This episode also won an Emmy.

The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences responsible for documentary Emmys recognized the series with awards in 1978, 1981, 1983, and 1989. Julia Cort won an Emmy in 2001 for writing "Lifes Greatest Miracle." Emmys were also awarded for the following episodes:

  • 2001 "Bioterror"
  • 2002 "Galileos Battle for the Heavens", "Mountain of Ice", "Shackletons Voyage of Endurance", "Why the Towers Fell"
  • 1994 "Secret of the Wild Child"
  • 2005 "Rx for Survival: A Global Health Challenge"
  • 1983 "The Miracle of Life" also won a Peabody
  • 1999 "Decoding Nazi Secrets"
  • 1982 "Heres Looking at You, Kid"
  • 1995 "Siamese Twins", "Secret of the Wild Child"
  • 1992 "Suicide Mission to Chernobyl", "The Russian Right Stuff"
  • 1985 "AIDS: Chapter One", "Acid Rain: New Bad News"
  • 2003 "Battle of the X-planes", "The Elegant Universe" also won a Peabody

In 1998, the National Science Board of the National Science Foundation awarded Nova its first-ever Public Service Award.


3. Decoding the Weather Machine

Broadcast April 18, 2018 Astrophysicist David Morrison reviewed Decoding the Weather Machine for Skeptical Inquirer magazine describing the presentation of the documentary as "logical and factual". The majority of the film stresses the impact of climate change on the earth and society. NOVA uses a novel approach with half the scientists being female and young. Climatologist Katherine Hayhoe is prominent. Morrison states that the film uses data to prove that climate change is real and has a "demonstrable impact on ecosystems and people". Morrison hopes that this film convinces the public who are uncertain about the science of climate change.