The best science TV show of all time

The Seed mothership wants to know, “What is the best science TV show of all time?

There’s one program that comes immediately to mind…

Jacob Bronowski’s Ascent of Man.


It is said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers. That is false, tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance. It was done by dogma. It was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.

I remember watching this series with my father while I was in high school, an awful lot of years ago. You come away from it with a sense that science is an entirely human endeavor, profound and powerful, and that it does not exclude any piece of our world. Humanist, scientist, citizen, thinker, communicator—these represent the best values of our culture.


  1. Sherry Konkus says

    In my view, the best science TV show of all time is Walking With Dinosaurs with great animation and awesome effects. Carl Sagan’s Cosmos is also are among the greats as well.

  2. Blaine says

    I am going to sling my answer all over these here blogs!


    As I mentioned over at the Mad Biologist’s place, I’ve noticed that all the life science guys are about you know, life science shows and all the physics/astronomy types are all about Cosmos.

    Hmmmmm….Gotta go look at some philosohy types and get data on them…excuse me.

  3. says

    Out of all the famous ones, this is he one I did not see – I guess Belgrade TV never ran it. I tried to stay away form the obvious – Cosmos, NOVA, Bill Nye – and point out a les well know one that was exceptionally good.

  4. Toby Joyce says

    Thank you for putting this on the web. When I watched the original show, this speech of Bronowski’s brought tears to my eyes. A short, bespecacled, elderly man standing ankle-deep in a pool of water should have been rediculous. Instead it was the most impassioned piece of television I ever saw – a treasured memory and a credo for troubled times. Thanks again.

  5. thwaite says

    There’s a complementary BBC program on human evolution called “Walking with cavemen”. It’s not bad at all, though not as good as “…Dinosaurs”. The pre-humans are played by human actors, with their rendering focused on behaviors more than anatomies. It goes back to Australopithecus, not just ‘cavemen’. And the accompanying book is quite good.

    For my non-majors class on evolution, I found this a far better video on hominids than the old Quest for Fire or the PBS efforts.

  6. quork says

    Let’s not forget that great science documentary series: The X-Files. I learned so much from that show.

  7. says

    I’ll have to go with Cosmos (although it is kind of like saying the Beatles are your favorite band).

    Carl Sagan fostered my athiesm. I’ll never forget the “wow” factor of him giving the “we are made of starstuff” line.

  8. says

    I’m a big fan on the Walking With Dinosaurs show, but I’m not sure if it’s the best. Discovery had another cool show a while back, about searching for extraterrestrial life, that I enjoyed.

    But you can’t forget MythBusters. Sure, they’re not always good about their science, but they do try, and are damn entertaining doing it. Remember, they figured out exactly what’s happening into the diet coke + mentos reactions. If that’s not good science, then what is?

  9. Brian says

    Anything involving David Attenborough is the best as far as I concern. The Life of Mammals series alone is one of my most favorite things to watch.

  10. says

    In the early 90’s Dutch television (VPRO) had a series of in depth interviews with leading scientists on the origins of life, universe, etc. The interviews were fanstastic but the highlight was the finale in which all of the subjects took part in a round table discussion…

    The participants:
    Daniel C. Dennett, Freeman Dyson, Stephen Jay Gould, Oliver Sacks, Rupert Sheldrake en Stephen Toulmin.

  11. says

    Hank wrote:

    “Well, cast my vote for a long-running science SERIES:

    Watch Mr. Wizard.”

    I’m with Hank on this one. It might interest you to know that Don Herbert is still alive and approaching his 90th birthday.

  12. shavenwarthog says

    I recommend “Secret Life of Machines.” Each little episode explained the workings of something by showing it in history, tearing it apart, and showing how each part works. The four-person 12-foot tall Sewing Machine is hilarious. Every episode has a few animated segments. The main guy Tim Hunkin has a great sense of humor and *FUN*!

    The fact that all three seasons are now free and on bit-torrent is another wonderful reason to be alive:

  13. zhaphod says

    The complete “COSMOS” collection is available on Search for sagan and all links will show up. Can any body point me to any leagal downloads of Attenborough presents series?

  14. Brian X says

    I have to second both Mr. Wizard (I knew him from Mr. Wizard’s World) and Mythbusters. Total gateway drugs shows. Nova/Horizon has always been pretty good too, and I have a soft spot for Nature from when I was a little kid.

  15. Mena says

    For me “Cosmos” was what first came to mind but I agree about “Bill Nye the Science Guy” too. I didn’t like “Walking With Dinosaurs” though, the constant stream of critters eating other critters just cranked up the bore factor for me and all of the guess work about the daily lives of the animals got tiresome so I deleted it about half way through. It looked sound, just not interesting, sorry.

  16. says

    My vote for Cosmos as well. To this day, I am always tempted to say “yooman” for human, in his honour.

    The Cosmos series is available in ‘mainstream’ areas. You have to go a little off the beaten track to get the series you truly love.

    Mr Wizard may be languishing in old VHS tapes on Amazon, but the official Mr Wizard Studios has the whole kit ‘n’ kaboodle on DVD.

    Beakman’s World (another favourite, though definitely a kids’ show) is only available in a Best Of format. Ah well, at least it’s still around.

    For Bill Nye, it seems he’s only available in classroom editions, like on While it’s nice that public performance rights are included, that’s pretty gosh-darned expensive for home use (as I also found out when I went looking for my favourite old-time Disney educational show “Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land”).

  17. says

    I am going to go with Beakman’s World. Not because the science is better than on any other show, and yes, it was corny; but it did talk to kids about how investigations into how, what, why and when actually work.

  18. DominEditrix says

    I’m voting for Watch Mr. Wizard, too. I remember watching it when I was a kid and making a mess with a homemade volcano. He never said “girls can’t do science”, unlike my subsequent teachers. [I still remember you, Mr Allston – you and your asinine declaration that girls didn’t have “logical” brains…] Mr Wizard seemed to feel that anyone could do science.

    And, yes, he was defintiely a gateway drug…

  19. says

    This is one of those answers that is going to depend very much on the age of the person responding. As for me, it’s another vote for Cosmos. I remember when it first ran, I was about 12 or 13 and I would watch it on the old black and white TV in the back room, through the fuzz of UHF static, because my Mom thought it was boring and wanted to watch M*A*S*H in the living room. Thinking about the image of myself as a kid – propped up on a big TV pillow in a dark room… I can hear the Vangelis score and it reminds me why I became a scientist… and THAT I became a scientist, despite any number of obstacles that made such a life path highly unlikely.

  20. MarkP says

    I’ll vote Beakman’s world, if not for the science, for being the most risque children’s show ever. I recall one episode in particular where he was showing the kids how to make sugar plates like they use in cowboy fight scenes. He had the liquid sugar water at a state somewhere in viscosity between water and syrup, let a bit drip off his finger and faced the camera and said “What’s that remind you of? Nevermind”.

    Wild Kingdom was a staple for me growing up, as was Star Trek. I learned more science watching those shows with my dad there to explain them than I ever learned in high school.

  21. Ian H Spedding says

    Toby Joyce wrote:

    Thank you for putting this on the web. When I watched the original show, this speech of Bronowski’s brought tears to my eyes. A short, bespecacled, elderly man standing ankle-deep in a pool of water should have been rediculous. Instead it was the most impassioned piece of television I ever saw – a treasured memory and a credo for troubled times. Thanks again.

    Thank you, Toby. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

    Many science shows have moved me to a sense of excitement or wonder or awe but this was the only one that ever moved me to tears.

    At its best, the human scientific enterprise combines an unquenchable desire to know with passion, compassion and humility. In his show, Bronowski expressed that better than anyone before or since.

  22. says

    I agree with Dr. Dave, it depends upon how old you are. I remember watching Mr. Wizard in the mid 1950’s. My parents subscribed to his science newsletter (alas long since gone) and we performed many of the experiments in the kitchen. I still amaze the neighbor kid by pouring water over the kitchen floor and having it wind up in the sink. Hint, surface tension is your friend so use a string to guide the water.

    LM Wanderer

  23. tristan heydt says

    I’ll put in a mention for Connections, although properly it’s a history program, not strictly a science program. History of science, tho.

  24. says

    Cosmos. I could just go on and on and on. THe impact it had on the general public was phenomenal. I was 10 or so when it came out, and I would sit in front of teh TV with a tape recorder to get every show!

  25. craig says

    Well shoot. I dunno if you hard sciene types would consider archeology a science, but it definitely involves the application of a lot of science (geophysics, various dating methods, etc.)
    So, I’m going to say “Time Team,” a show that I’m absolutely addicted to.

  26. QrazyQat says

    As another “old” guy, Mr. Wizard was great (and the recurring “Mr. Science” bit on Pat Paulsen’s show with Bob Einstein was a great parody)… all those others are great, but here’s something everyone should chew on. I still remember the documentaries on network TV, especially one on time. The history of telling time, concepts of time, etc.

    Can you imagine seeing that on network TV now, or even on most “science/learning/history” channels, which tend toward being “ghosts and pyschics”/”dogs with jobs”/”fighting Hitler” channels now.

  27. AlanW says

    Think of a Number & THink Again with Johnny Ball were great science shows for kids, in the late 70s/early 80s on the BBC…a bit like Bill Nye, except he wound up being the rector of my university (Glasgow, in the UK) for a few years too. He’s still going strong, as an author/presenter from what I hear.

  28. Ray says

    Don’t forget about “Live from the Moon”, featuring the Apollo astronauts. It made me want to be a scientist.

    Life on Earth was by far the best series I have ever seen, because it had such great cimematography along with a strong lesson on evolution. However, everything by Attenborough is fantastic. Cosmos was relatively boring because it was too autobiographical. Ascent of Man focused too much on Wallace’s contributions to natural selection, whereas Darwin’s numerous other works showed he really understood how natural selection operates (although we all realize natural selection is not the only mechanism in evolution).

  29. harlan says

    I agree with The Ascent of Man–it probably single-handedly got me fascinated with the sciences.

    …but since Mythbusters has been included, how about Good Eats on the Food channel. I recently saw an episode on squid that took place on a reasearch vessel; and the one on making various candies out of sugar carefully explained the science behind turning sugar cane into sucrose and then into various candies by heating it to increasing temperatures. Clear molecular models were used…


  30. Ichthyic says

    I don’t know how to categorize “best”, but the most memorable series to me was the very first year of the “Nature” series, with the episodes of “The Flight of the Condor”.

    art and science have never been better combined, IMO. I still have the tapes i made of it when it first came out.

  31. frank schmidt says

    Mr. Wizard probably did more to inspire kids with the idea that they could be scientists than anyone in history. Most every boomer scientist I know got turned on by watching Mr. Wizard, and we all wanted to be on the show (“Oh, hi Tommy, come on in. I’m imploding metal cans today.”)

    I did the imploding paint can just this week for my grandaughter’s elementary class, and it still amazes. What a treasure Don Herbert was – and still is, thankfully.

  32. RickD says

    I’ll put a second vote in for James Burke’s Connections. A great mix of history and science, and quite accessible for lay people. It’s been a longer time since I watched Sagan, and that’s not as fresh in my mind.

  33. Baratos says

    I nominate Mythbusters, because its what the next generation of scientists will grow up watching. Mr Wizard inspired kids in the 50s, Cosmos in the 80s (or 70s, its been a while), Bill Nye in the 90s, and Mythbusters in the 00s. Its great to celebrate old shows, but special attention must be made of the one keeping the flame alive right now.

  34. Mena says

    By the way, is it my imagination or have these shows gone way down in accuracy? I deleted one show after it claimed that Harold Carter found King Tut’s tomb and then they started going on about the curse that was inscribed on Tut’s sarcophagus. Doing a web search I found an scary number of sites with Harold Carter which made me wonder if the writers get online and do some basic research and then go to the CGI studio to make pretty pictures and this is what is considered a great piece of documentary film making. On a similar note, does anyone remember the name of a paleontology show from about 10 years ago which was supposed to have great special effects but didn’t mention Walcott at all?

  35. says

    “I am going to go with Beakman’s World.”

    Agreed: goofy, informative, with the hook of sexy sidekick. What teenager (boy anyway) wouldn’t like it?

  36. 386sx says

    The complete “COSMOS” collection is available on

    So is the Ascent Of Man, by the way.

  37. Dee says

    I’ll put in a third vote for Connections, history though it is. That show was the reason I bought my first VCR. 15 years later my son found those tapes and I watched them all over again with him. Found and bought them on DVD, and watched them over and over with my son. They gave him an interest in science he wouldn’t take from me and certainly didn’t get at school.

    I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the Ascent of Man, however.

  38. alan says

    I’m a bit younger, I guess, but my favorite science show was 321 contact. It used to ruin my day when I came home from elementary school to find that it had been pre-empted for some children’s drama or something. That show gave me an interest in science that’ll never leave me, though sadly, I don’t have the requisite math skills to ever go into the field.

  39. says

    Anything with Julius Sumner Miller.

    I knew him from short Science Demonstrations broadcast on WLVT or WHYY in the 1970s.
    He appeared as a guest on the Mickey Mouse Club and the occasional dayime talk show in the US, as well the Hilarious House of Frightenstein in Canada. Although he was born and raised in the US, he better known in Australia, where he had a show called “Why Is it So?” from which you can see clips here.

  40. kathy a says

    PZ’s quote from bronowski is absolutely excellent. it is something none of us should ever forget, especially now.

  41. says

    I had the luck to see the series «The ring of thruth» by Phillip Morrison in BBC Satelitte TV. The clarity of exposition, the balance of experiment and theory, the values and ethics of science that transpired made it in my opinion the best science TV program I have seen.

    Cosmos is cool, but «The Ring of thruth» is an entire education on science with wit, humour and profound knowledge on the human condition.

  42. says

    I had the luck to see the series «The ring of thruth» by Phillip Morrison in BBC Satelitte TV. The clarity of exposition, the balance of experiment and theory, the values and ethics of science that transpired made it in my opinion the best science TV program I have seen.

    Cosmos is cool, but «The Ring of thruth» is an entire education on science with wit, humour and profound knowledge on the human condition.

  43. says

    When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave.

    Really? Shouldn’t we be asking for some references to back this up?

    Or is that card only played when we disagree with a sentiment?

    “Yeah, but . . .”

    Ub, ub ub. Answer the question. Why should the sentiment above deserve less scrutiny than those put forward by “opponents”?

    I’m not trolling here. I seriously want to know.

  44. bug lady says

    My first post, but this question inspired me. My response is “Life on Earth” by David Attenborough, absoutely! Being a science nerd as a child, I was absolutely obsessed with the topic of the evolution of life. Each week when the program came on, I was allowed to control the TV for one hour (even if my father might have preferred a sports game, and despite the taunting of my little brothers). This program had a huge influence on me, and probably helped me to get to where I am today- a practicing biologist. A great program to get kids exicted about science.

  45. Jay Ray says

    Mr Person asks:

    Really? Shouldn’t we be asking for some references to back this up?


    Brownowski lost family in the concentration camps. One can’t blame him for issuing a heartfelt warning against the dangers of dogma. I think the puddle he stands in is a pretty strong reference, don’t you?

  46. Scott Hatfield says

    Mr. Person:

    Hi! I’m not sure what you mean by reference or evidence. It seems to me that there is a certain abundance of negative evidence here, which is that I am unaware of wars, racial cleansing, mass murder etc. being inspired and directed by skepticism. If you know of any, I’d love to hear about it.

    Conversely, belief systems seem to often engender an undeserved confidence that can lead its adherents to regard themselves or their cause as so just as to lead them to dehumanize, enslave or even butcher outliers within their own group or members of other groups.

    It is often said that the unexamined life is not worth living, but perhaps it is more apt to say that those who do not examine their own lives seem disposed to make the lives of others miserable. Self-examination leads to modesty, humility and a certain lack of certainty which (if my personal experience is any judge) tends to promote empathy for others, whatever their background.


  47. Jay Ray says

    Mr Person then asks:

    Or is that card only played when we disagree with a sentiment?


    I think you’re on the wrong track here. People disagree incessantly without playing “that card”. But in the case of Bronowski’s speech, in that place, its hard to imagine any sane person thinking that blind dogma, in major part, wasn’t behind the tragedy. Bronowski, imassioned, and with good reason, cautions us against it. He pleads with us to question our assumptions. Its an important, perhaps even necessary, sentiment.

  48. says

    Oh, this is a lovely thread! I recall almost every show mentioned, and loved almost all, from Mr. Wizard through Mythbusters :^)

    I also cast a strong vote for Connections, which was *both* science and history, and for a sort of “sister” series, “The Day the Universe Changed.”

    Burke did such a wonderful job of putting scientific and technological achievement into the context of history. I love to sit my students down and show them the “…Universe…” episode, “Fit to Rule,” to give them a feel for the way Darwin fits into the context of the nineteenth century, right along with the philosophical, architectural, musical and artistic achievements of the same period. That sort of historical connection is one of the “luxuries” we as teachers don’t generally get to include in our curricula. Yet this kind of rich context can be so important in gaining any depth of understanding of important ideas and events. Too much emphasis on “content” and not enough on understanding :^(

    Anyway, here’s a vote for good old James Burke.


  49. Scott Hatfield says

    There can be doubt that ‘Cosmos’ was the most ambitious science program ever attempted. It was a personal synthesis, and it had the great virtue of arguing explicitly for changes in human affairs, which was almost unprecedented. It provided many powerful demonstrations of basis principles of science and powerfully connected the development of those principles with human history. It was visually innovative and had a marvelous original score by Vangelis.

    I still use sections of ‘Cosmos’ in the classroom (I have the DVD with the updates at the end along with a remastered soundtrack). It’s still eminently useful, but I have to say the single most impressive recent science series would still have to be PBS’s ‘Evolution’ series, which (much more so than most programs) was explicitly designed to support public school science education.

    I also have to mention Timothy Ferris’s ‘The Creation of the Universe’, which (despite being coming before the 1992 supernovae data) is still an impressive survey of the state of cosmology. Unlike Cosmos, which seems a little dated in terms of its effects and presentation, Ferris’s 1986 film is visually superb, with a score by Brian Eno. I’m surprised others haven’t mentioned it, it’s really excellent and worth watching again and again. There’s a marvelous segment where Stephen Hawking (pre-speech synthesizer) gives a lecture at Cal Tech which is ‘translated’ by his post-doc, who could make sense of his murmurs. What’s really fascinating about this is that the front row is filled with Nobel Prize winners and the only one who even dares to ask a question is Murray Gell-Mann.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents…SH

  50. jujuquisp says

    Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker put on THE best science program in my opinion. Too bad I had to be the first to mention it

  51. says

    Two things: first, the Ascent of Man can be viewed on Google video. Except for episode two.

    Second, James Burkes’ “The Day the Universe Changed” was my favorite growing up.

  52. Jay Ray says

    I would have said Cosmos, hands down, before seeing The Ascent of Man. Now its a close call, but I’ll still go with Cosmos. Sagan was a happy influence on me as a youngster, ya? He still is, really. But The Ascent of Man was good stuff, too. Sagan mentions once or twice in his books that Bronowki’s The Ascent of Man was an influence on him, and was his inspiration for making Cosmos. Cool symmetry there.

  53. lo says

    Strangly enough BBC does pretty well in the science department. By mere numbers the US should actually have the lead but they don`t, and some of their science shows are absolutely sub-par by european standards.

  54. travc says

    More technology than pure science, but Connections was a kick ass series which opened up a lot of interesting ideas to me.

    For pedantic/educational science, The Mechanical Universe still stands as the best IMO.

  55. Jay Ray says

    Has anyone else ever seen Jack Horkeimer’s Stargazer?

    I don’t know if it still runs or not, but it was always fun to watch. Usually only a couple minutes long, Jack kept us all apprised of happenings in the sky with a brief explanation of the phenomena. Comets, planetary alignments, eclipses, etc. If I had a TV, I’d watch it. :) Hey, that reminds me. BRB.

    Here is some streaming video. Man, I lub the intarwebs.

  56. Ian H Spedding says

    Mr. Person wrote:

    When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave.
    Really? Shouldn’t we be asking for some references to back this up?
    Or is that card only played when we disagree with a sentiment?
    “Yeah, but . . .”
    Ub, ub ub. Answer the question. Why should the sentiment above deserve less scrutiny than those put forward by “opponents”?

    I doubt that anyone would argue that such a sentiment should be shielded from scrutiny, least of all Bronowski.

    But how many skeptics have flown planes into buildings?

    How many doubters strap on explosives and blow themselves and others to bits in crowded markets?

    How many agnostics have oppressed, tortured and massacred millions of followers of other beliefs – whether religious or political – or other ethnic groups, simply because they were followers of other beliefs or of a different race?

    History is replete with examples of absolute believers who have practiced conversion at the point of a sword or the barrel of a gun. How many references do you need?

  57. craig says

    You Connections fans – in case you aren’t aware of this, there were two more series – Connections 2 and Connections 3.
    Also, there was a series done in the last 3 or 4 years by someone other than James Burke that used the same formula with a different name, but I can’t recall it at the moment.

  58. bernarda says

    Cosmos by Carl Sagan. In the last episode he recounts the life of Hypatia, one of the last scientists at the Alexandria library who was tortured to death by Xian followers of Cyril, xian bishop of Alexandria.

    “they flayed her flesh from her bones with abalone shells. Her remains were burned; her works obliterated; her name forgotten. Cyril was made a saint.”

    That is what you get with xianity. Don’t expect anything better today.


    “The last remains of the library were destroyed within a year of Hypatia’s death.”

  59. says

    craig said: I’m going to say “Time Team,” a show that I’m absolutely addicted to.

    Time Team is the only program on UK television that actually shows scientists at work solving scientific problems.

  60. says

    While I too am of the Mr. Wizard generation, and remember fondly Prof. Julius Sumner Miller, there was another show i remember. It wasn’t a regularly scheduled program but rather a series of hour-long animated shows that ran about once a month for a couple of years, at least, that was directed by Frank Capra.
    I don’t remember the running title, and find only three of the pieces included in the usually accurate IMDB, and I am sure there were more. But the ones listed were Our Mr. Sun, Hemo the Magnificent, and The Strange Case of the Cosmic Rays. Does anyone else remember this series and can they give me more info, including whether they are available now?

  61. says

    Prup wrote:

    “But the ones listed were Our Mr. Sun, Hemo the Magnificent, and The Strange Case of the Cosmic Rays. Does anyone else remember this series and can they give me more info, including whether they are available now?”

    I know where you can find 16 mm copies of these three films: the science storage room at Lawrence High School!
    In my 33 years of teaching science, I’ve probably watched these films at least a thousand times, sometimes 10 times in one day. It’s the price you pay for getting a day off from teaching.

  62. says

    Charlie wrote:

    “sometimes 10 times in one day.”

    Well, maybe not in one day. We had an even-odd day schedule, so at times we would have 10 different classes in two days.

  63. gordonsowner says

    I’ve read posts and comments here, and almost exclusively commented when I’ve disagreed with posts. But I have to agree wholeheartedly with PZ here.

    I am too young to have seen this in its original brodcast; I came across it while taking Physics in college from a professor who lived in Oak Ridge, TN, while his father, also a physicist, worked on the Manhattan project. He knew many of the people who Bronowski referenced in this work (I can’t remember if he knew Bronowski himself). One of the themes that my professor brought out was the profound impact that working on the nuclear bomb had on changing the physicists themselves. One of the famous quotes after the sucessful tests was by Oppenheimer, quoting a Hindu text: “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” This sentiment was not uncommon, with physicists like Szilard (sp?) turning to biology after working on the project. He was not alone, though I cannot recall the other names. My professor stressed this to his Freshman Second Semester Physics class, showing us this chapter in the “Ascent of Man” series. Three years later, before my college band went on a tour which included a visit to Auswich, I showed this same Bronowski excerpt to my bandmembers. It made me chilled and nausios to see the same places in person that I had seen in the video.

    I think this series needs to be reshown today. There are apt ideas that apply today to the Iraq war as they did to World War II (as an aside, I hope that this doesn’t count as a positive example of Godwin’s Law).

  64. says

    I think I was a bit too old to appreciate it when Cosmos came out. I got very impatient at Sagan’s purple prose, but I do remember his lines on Hypatia and Cyril very clearly.

    My vote is for Connections. Reading this article has caused me to go looking for it on DVD. To date I can only find it in Region 1 DVDs. Curses; it’s always a pain importing them from the USA.

  65. LadyGrey says

    3-2-1 Contact definitely fueled my chldhood love of science. I remember playing Scrabble with my parents at a time when I could only spell 3 letter words, and trying to get away with “DNA.”

  66. raj says

    Another vote for Watch Mr. Wizard. What was interesting about that program is that it showed people–not just kids–how to do experiments, and what could be learned from them. That is sorely lacking in more than a few of the other “science” shows that I have seen.

  67. says

    Burke! Burke! Burke!

    Connections was the coolest show when I was younger. Mixing history with science and the development of technology. Plus his goofy way of going from one subject to another.

    The Star Hustler theme song still haunts my memories. Arabesque by Claude Debussy, performed by Isao Tomita.

  68. quantum says

    Cosmos is the one documentary that have a profound effect on my life since my youth days. It is a complete view of everything and anything, and of course encompasses evolution where I can never forget the Japanese crabs with the human face.

  69. Mothra says

    Candidate programs are unquestionably viewer age dependent. The Ascent of Man, from my 50 year old vantage point is head and shoulders above all else. Cosmos is fluffy but good, Walking with Dinosaurs too narrow and conjectural, Connections too arbitrary, The Nature of things too personality driven (Cosmos also has this flaw).

    The segment posted by PZ was extremely moving– on TV which I saw as a young adult, and now as an isolated still, suspended in the blogosphere. The series captured the thrill of science (as does Cosmos) but placed science in the panoramic backdrop of human culture. Cosmos fails here as too ‘zeitgeist’ dependent.

  70. craig says

    “Time Team is the only program on UK television that actually shows scientists at work solving scientific problems.”

    Yeah! So there! :)

  71. says

    I can’t believe nobody’s mentioned Tomorrow’s World! Especially since Raymond Baxter died this week. I grew up with this show. It covered every scientific field. It charted the space programme, the development of computers, medical science, nuclear physics and chemistry. It gets my vote for best science programme.
    I’ve got Cosmos on video. That was such an excellent programme.
    I’ve also got Sir Patrick Moore’s autograph. The Sky at Night is a broadcasting legend: On air for 49 years with the same presenter. It’s a record which is unlikely to ever be broken. And it’s good science: topical, cutting edge astronomy, yet accessible to the lay viewer. It also had the scoop of the century, when it was the first programme anywhere to show the first photographs of the far side of the moon. And that was even before Russian scientists, whose mission it was, had seen them.

  72. says

    “Hemo the Magnificent” was the best of the Bell Science series in my opinion. As a fan of both science and classic animation I have it on 12 inch laser disc, along with “Strange Case of the Cosmic Rays” and “Thread of Life”. The last one on DNA is remarkably lame. Although they knew DNA was there they didn’t seem to exactly understand what it did. Instead there was a lot of discussion of Mendelian genetics and blood types, and Capra ends it by getting all mystical and religious. “Hemo” is great though — well worth searching out.

    As for best science TV show ever I think I’d have to go with plain old NOVA. It doesn’t have some of the inspiring sweep of the big series like Cosmos or Ascent, but it covers the whole range of all the sciences, shows real scientists working in the field on current problems, has very high production values and — with the exception of a few huge clunkers — handles the subject matter well.

  73. ice weasel says

    A few thoughts.

    Cosmos is the no brainer. At least, I would guess, for most Americans about my age, it was the eye opener. Sagan was a brilliant communicator and while his passion opened him up to comedic references, it was that same passion that captured the imaginations of millions.

    The first Connections series, though it is arguably as much as history as science, should be mandatory viewing. Why? Because it explores soemthing Sagan didn’t talk about in Cosmos (but did write about) which is, why we do things and why things happen. Not the nuts and bolts of how, but why. Burke is brilliant ar putting pieces together and making a point about how we approach issues as much as tossing in the free history/science lesson. I think it’s a vital part of any “best of” to at least mention the first Connections series.

    Finally, an honorable mention’s to Burke’s The Day The Universe Changed, again, much like the first Connections series but with a better budget, production standards and a wonderful Colin Davis soundtrack. As with Connections, the point is merely about the events but how they impacted us and changed us. A good way for scientists to consider things in my opinion.

    Final honorable mention to David Suzuki who is an excellent broadcaster and produced a number of fine episodes of Nature Of Things. I can’t say I’ve seen them all but the ones I’ve seen are excellent.

    Thanks for the chance to offer my nominations.

  74. Dursun Sakarya says

    The picture of Bronowski is of him standing in a stream that
    runs through Auschwitz where the ashes were dumped!
    He begins that episode explaining wave defraction and the
    limits it places on certainty. And explains what happen when
    there is a claim to “final” knowledge.

  75. phil says

    I watched “Life on Earth” at an early age and it really helped me ‘get’ evolution, and prompted a lot more interest in biology. The production values also seemed way ahead of its time – and everyone was watching it.

  76. Longship says

    Those of you who love science but have never viewed the “Ascent of Man” series would do well to look up a copy of it at your local library. The series is quite wonderful. The images Bronowski paints with his words are stunning.

    Dr. Myers’ citation, above, appears at the very end of one of the better episodes, “Knowledge and Certainty”. Bronowski is standing in the middle of the field adjoining Auschwitz where the ashes of thousands were cast. His stunning last words of that episode spoken as he reaches down and plunges is hand into the field of ashes are simply, “We have to touch people.” I couldn’t think of a better way of putting it.

  77. Rupert Goodwins says

    No votes for Horizon? That was my favourite, growing up – I particularly remember one about the Voyager spacecraft that had me transfixed, and cemented an abiding fascination with deep space exploration. At its best it was intelligent, in-depth and with serious intent – and had the courage to let scientists talk science.

    Now, it’s suffering from Discovery Syndrome, the deadly fear that viewers’ heads will actually explode if more than one fact per ten minutes is stated.

    Tomorrow’s World was great fun (not just because I appeared on it twice live, once in an orange boiler suit in a sea of dry ice), but that was technology rather than science.

    Cosmos was trippy (that’s a good thing). Walking with Dinosaurs annoyed me more than I can say, as it gave no indication whether what it was saying – well, showing – was consensus, best guess, what if or just so.


  78. bernarda says

    It is natural that all the comments are on English language programs. However I am sure that other countries have valuable programs too. Last year German DW TV had “Einstein Year”, which you can still find in English version on their site.

    The French have a program “C’est pas Sorcier”(It’s not sorcery) which is excellent, a bit like “Tomorrow’s World”.

    Other BBC programs are “Panorama” and “Horizon”, and on Radio 4, “The Reith Lectures”.

  79. Steve Keating says


    HEMO THE MAGNIFICENT, UNCHAINED GODDESS, OUR MR. SUN and STRANGE CASE OF THE COSMIC RAYS are all available on DVD from Connecticut Valley Biological Supply.

    I’ve never forgotten the experience of seeing “Hemo” in the sixth grade. It was so cool to see how the body worked. Here was this thing called “science” that could actually explain things!

    As far as the best science series goes, for its breadth, its depth and its humanity…It’s the Ascent of Man, no question about it.

  80. Flex says


    I’m getting to the question late, but I’m going to add my vote for ‘Connections’. I recently re-read the book and still found it as enjoyable and enlightening as the previous times I’ve read it, as well as when we watched the original series.

    I’m too young to have seen the original airing of ‘The Ascent of Man’ but I have the book for that show as well. Although I don’t return to that book as often as I probably should.

    For the same reason, I’m a little too old to have been aware of some of the other shows people have mentioned. I was aware of Bill Nye and Beakmans’s World, but never took the time to watch them.

    So I expect that everyone’s answers may well be age dependant.

    One show which I found fascinating, but I don’t think has been mentioned (unless I missed it) was ‘The Body in Question’ with Johnathan Miller. I still remember large chunks of that show, even though I had to watch it on a grainy black and white six inch TV.

    And of course, Cosmos was phenomenal.

    But still, ‘Connections’, which dealt with innovation and the spread of ideas, was the science show which influenced me the most. Burke! Burke! Burke!

  81. says

    When Bronowski stepped into the pit of filthy water amd stared at the camera was one of the most emotional moments of my life. The series was utterly spellbinding an an emtional rocket sled.

  82. Ron Harding says

    one show that has not been mentioned in this blog that i grew up watching was ‘How Come?’ this was a local kid’s science show in the puget sound area in the 70’s. i remember it being fun.