Two sweeping science-based documentaries, “Cosmos” and “Years Of Living Dangerously,” received multiple Primetime Emmy Award nominations Thursday morning. The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences nominated both landmark shows for “Outstanding Documentary Or Nonfiction Series” and “Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming.” COSMOS then got another 10 nominations!
“COSMOS: A SpaceTime Odyssey,” is the Fox network’s gorgeous, high-tech update of the classic PBS series, with the redoubtable Neil deGrasse Tyson in the narrator role made famous by Carl Sagan. It is one of the strongest defenses of science and the scientific method ever to appear on network TV — and Tyson was not shy in speaking out about the reality of climate science.
“Years Of Living Dangerously” is the first documentary series devoted to climate change ever to appear on a major network or premium cable. Its 9 episodes were produced by the legendary storytellers and filmmakers James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jerry Weintraub — together with three former 60 Minutes producers who already have 18 Emmys between them. I was Chief Science Advisor for the series alongside Heidi Cullen.
MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, a “Years” correspondent in the episode nominated for Outstanding Writing, said:
I am so thrilled to see the excellent work that so many people put into this recognized. It’s one of the best projects I’ve ever been privileged to be a part of. It’s a model for the future of TV journalism.
Former 60 Minutes producer David Gelber, an Executive Producer of “Years” and series co-creator with Joel Bach, told me, “We did the series to help put climate change back on the national radar screen. Maybe these two nominations are a sign that it’s working.”
In fact, the series generated dozens of major news stories and more than a billion (!) media impressions. The interview between Tom Friedman and President Obama in the final episode (which I reported on here) has helped moved the climate conversation forward. Slate published an entire column on the “Years” Obama interview headlined, “On Climate Change, Obama Is Finally Leading From the Front,” which noted, “The clarity of Obama’s answers to Friedman contrast starkly to his recent half-measures, diversions, and bromides.”
The other good news, for those 80 percent of households who don’t subscribe to Showtime, is that the entire series will be available on iTunes and DVD in September. Amazon will be preselling “Years” in a day or two.
COSMOS was more than landmark prime-time network TV on science generally. Dr. Tyson — Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space — emerged as a strong defender of climate science (see this episode). He told viewers:
We just can’t seem to stop burning up all those buried trees from way back in the carboniferous age, in the form of coal, and the remains of ancient plankton, in the form of oil and gas. If we could, we’d be home free climate wise. Instead, we’re dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a rate the Earth hasn’t seen since the great climate catastrophes of the past, the ones that led to mass extinctions. We just can’t seem to break our addiction to the kinds of fuel that will bring back a climate last seen by the dinosaurs, a climate that will drown our coastal cities and wreak havoc on the environment and our ability to feed ourselves. All the while, the glorious sun pours immaculate free energy down upon us, more than we will ever need. Why can’t we summon the ingenuity and courage of the generations that came before us? The dinosaurs never saw that asteroid coming. What’s our excuse?
It is particularly fitting that these two landmark science shows have been recognized by the Television Academy. You may have noticed that the Emmy statuette is of a winged woman holding an atom. It is “the symbol of the Television Academy’s goal of supporting and uplifting the arts and science of television: The wings represent the muse of art; the atom the electron of science.”
We will need both muse of art and the truth of science if we are to overcome the greatest threat to civilization humanity has ever know.