Stargazing Live was a little too down-to-earth

So the first of three nights of Stargazing Live was on the ABC last night and it was OK.

The format is one that has worked well in the UK for a couple of years, and really should transplant seamlessly down under; and really it wasn’t bad. But I didn’t come away feeling it was all that good either.

There were a bunch of talented and enthusiastic astronomers, headed by Brian Cox who is the exemplar of ‘talented and enthusiastic’ but very ably backed by people like Lisa Harvey-Smith who exudes brains. Really the scientists involved, both professional and amateur didn’t need any hand-holding to do the presentation and so the enthusiastic talking heads dishing up the everyman questions seemed both redundant and intrusive. Julia Zemiro is a generally talented presenter but she didn’t seem to add much to the mix – and certainly not the science-geeky credibility that the BBC’s Dara O Briain has.

The other thing that didn’t seem to add a lot to the mix was the fact that it was live. Watching the presenters all stand around vainly trying not to shiver visibly on TV certainly drove home that it was, in fact, live; but it wasn’t clear that being live was all that important, especially as the live show was liberally intermixed with pre-recorded segments. The problem with live stargazing is not just that you’re at the mercy of the weather, it’s also that many of the best views require lots of time and patience which live television has in very short supply. So, for example, we saw a picture being taken live, but it was combined with ones taken on previous days to add colour.  It wasn’t edge of your seats stuff.

It probably didn’t help with the ‘live’ aspect that this was pretty much the identical show they’d run for the UK a few days earlier, just with local talking-talent co-presenters swapped in, and there were a few too many references to the earlier show to ignore that fact.

So what was good? The fact this exists at all is certainly wonderful. Enthusiasm was in boundless supply, as was an enduring sense of wonder in science: These are good things. Greg Quicke, and his beard, were both simply great – we should have more of them. Chances to get involved hands-on in astronomy were very cool. There were some brilliantly clear explanations of things like why we see the center of the galaxy from Australia but not from the Northern Hemisphere.

Overall I enjoyed the show and will watch more. But I was also hoping for more, which I remain hopeful the next couple of days will deliver.

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