NOVA: On The Air for 50 Years

Reading Time: 2 minutes

From Ben Shedd

NOVA has been on the air for 50 rides around the sun, with the first broadcast on March 3, 1974.

In 1973, after founding executive producer Michael Ambrosino visited London to study the BBC, he invited producer-director Simon Campbell-Jones, who was working for Horizon at BBC, to come to WGBH for one year as a Producer/Director/Writer for a soon-to-be-named series called NOVA. Terry Rockefeller was Production Assistant for NOVA #1.

The first production team started at WGBH in the summer of 1973, making program #1 WHERE DID THE COLORADO GO? It is online on the Wayback Machine, split in two parts. I was the Associate Producer on that program and then Producer/Director/Co-writer on NOVA Seasons 2 and 3.

Over 950 science programs followed from that start at WGBH — broadcast in over 100 countries, with websites and all kinds of outreach — all about “how the world works,” as NOVA creator and original Executive Producer Michael Ambrosino wrote in the original White Paper for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) proposing what became NOVA.

I wrote an essay about “NOVA From the Beginnings” 25 years ago on that anniversary year, just as the then-brand-new WGBH Alumni organization was planning its first reunion. Toward the end of my essay, I quoted Michael Ambrosino who began that AAAS White Paper with one of his always clear and direct comments:

Objectives: We, the Science Program Group, have these aims: We want to show the way the world works.

And later Michael wrote,

The Science Program Group will be founded on its first project: the development of an imaginative and entertaining science series for the adult and young audience, to awaken an interest in the nature of man and his world and to foster public understanding of science.

In 31 brief pages, he envisioned and changed the face of US television.

The concluding note reads: “The group would evolve a policy for publishing books, television cassettes and records — these are in the future. (Indeed, VCRs were still far in the future.) The first priority is to establish the Science Program Group as a first-rate television production unit and to get its first series before the American public.”

The White Paper was dated March 1973. In March 1974, NOVA was on the air.

There are so many NOVA stories and people who keep making this series current and alive and supported and important to giving us clear and real ways to know our world. And here we are, 50 years on, with NOVA continuing to “foster public understanding of science.”

3 Comments

  1. Ben Shedd on March 16, 2024 at 6:35 pm

    Hello Charles, Yes, Michael had his outside office door covered in 3×5 cards with possible names for what became NOVA, with ideas gathered from all of us and all of WGBH, so it is very likely your submission was on the door with so many others, all carefully hand printed. I didn’t suggest NOVA either.

    • Charles Kelley on March 17, 2024 at 6:51 pm

      Thanks for the response, and confirming the soundness of my memory – After my post, though, I remembered that Michael decidedly preferred Michael, so perhaps memory has, indeed, taken a bit of a hit. And I assume those cards containing the ideas were not just a repurposing of the backs of the ubiquitous ZOOM cards of that year.

      Thank you for your good work helping to develop and establish NOVA in the early years, and, of course, your documentary work since then. It’s a legacy to be proud of.

  2. Charles Kelley on March 16, 2024 at 5:23 pm

    I was working on the studio crew as a mere lad in the summer of 1973 and seem to remember that Mike Ambrosino sent out a memo to staff describing the show and inviting us to submit ideas for its title. I even recall submitting something myself, though I have no idea what (except I am quite sure it wasn’t NOVA!)). Am I remembering correctly, or is this just old age kicking in?

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