BBC Sky at Night

Forums General Discussion BBC Sky at Night

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    Posted by Paul A Brierley at 19:50 on 2013 Jun 06

    I’m both horrified and saddened to see what has happened to the Sky at Night since Patrick’s passing.I’ve just seen the first fifteen minutes, of tonight’s program about Stars (BBC4) and I have switched it off.The show is nothing like it used to be. They have annoying background music now. Which I found very annoying tonight.It is a great shame they have done this, rather than stick to the original format.Does anybody here feel the same?


    Posted by David Basey at 10:45 on 2013 Jun 07

    Paul,I agree 100%For the last 40 years I’ve looked forward to the monthly Sky At Night broadcast, but now frankly it would not bother me if it was cancelled. I’m not quite at the point of turning off but there are certainly segments I fast forward through.It seems to me that it has been dumbed down. My wife who was (unusually) watching it last night turned to me and asked "Is this being aimed at children now?"Certainly the production values do not seem to be what they were and it is very sad and somehow disrespectful of what Sir Patrick built up over the years.


    Posted by D A Dunn at 22:19 on 2013 Jun 07

    Well, I’m not sure I agree. While the music is somewhat aggravating, it wasn’t as bad as some of today’s programmes.As to content: I would not expect a BAA member to learn much from any sky at night programme. We have many other sources for detailed specialist information. However for the man on the Clapham omnibus I feel that this programme still hits the mark. Obviously Sir Patrick was unique and cannot be replaced but the new team, I feel, makes a good fist of putting across the subject matter in a clear and friendly manner.If it is below the level of BAA members then I am not surprised but perhaps it has always been so. Maybe it was only Patrick’s magic that made us believe otherwise.David


    Posted by David Basey at 09:13 on 2013 Jun 08

    D A Dunn wrote:

    If it is below the level of BAA members then I am not surprised but perhaps it has always been so. Maybe it was only Patrick’s magic that made us believe otherwise.

    David,I think the point I was making was that the old format did have something for everyone, not just the ‘man on the Clapham omnibus’ but BAA members also (well myself anyway).When I started out in astronomy as a teenager my total knowledge was what I had gleaned from the Observer’s book of Astronomy, there were constellations, Saturn had rings, Jupiter a Great Red Spot that sort of thing. Clearly the Sky at Night taught me a lot but even forty years on it remained relevant. I believe it is a question of breadth and depth. Most BAA members will have a broad knowledge of the whole spectrum of astronomy, enough to talk knowledgably to the man from Clapham. Some will also have a very deep understanding of a narrow topic. So a specialist in comets may well only have a superficial knowledge of lunar geology. With this in mind a programme on that subject that goes into some depth potentially will add to a lot of members understanding.Patrick’s ‘magic’ if you like was to present a subject in a way that gave something to both the teenager starting out and the old hand by starting with the basics and building from there a deeper picture.Now clearly the old format of a lengthy interview with a studio guest by a gifted presenter lends it self well to achieving this. Of course that is not to say that the new format can’t do the same but I would contend that, at the moment, it is missing that particular mark. I guess the previous format is no longer considered relevant or entertaining enough for today’s audience.Ultimately however we have to take the bigger picture and if for every old fart like me the programme alienates it brings another new person into the hobby then it is a price worth paying.Mind you, it doesn’t stop me being saddened by what has happened to the Sky at Night!David


    Posted by D A Dunn at 17:48 on 2013 Jun 08

    David,Don’t get me wrong. I liked the old format too. Having watched the programme since 1965, I learned lots about Astronomy from watching. I also tried to get my children to watch when they were younger. Now I guess I will have to work on my grandchildren.I also like the "talk by the expert" slot, and I guess this is the big weakness with the new format.As, I guess, the new team are BAA members, then perhaps they might take note of intelligent(?) views on the subject.Oh well after some clear nights, I’m back to processing images.David


    Posted by Nick James at 19:53 on 2013 Jun 08

    At the risk of sounding terribly old, I don’t watch much science on TV any more since the content and presentation annoy me so much. I understand why programme makers target a large proportion of their output at a general audience and we all benefit through encouragement of an interest in science and astronomy, but I would hope for the odd "heavier" programme.I have a recording of a 1985 Horizon, narrated by Paul Vaughan, which covers the Grand Unification of forces. To me it it is model of how to explain a difficult concept, clearly and without hype. Modern Horizons don’t do that for me but I suppose that the 1985 version would probably send 95% of a modern audience to sleep…The Sky at Night certainly used to be a programme I watched every month. Things are very different now and I rarely get to watch. That’s not to say that it is in some way "worse" than before, but it seems that the programme is targetted at a different audience. For me, the Internet has replaced TV, and I find most of what I want there.Nick.


    Posted by Martin Mobberley at 11:49 on 2013 Jun 09

    I agree 100% with all that Nick has said in his post. The ‘Whizz-Bang’ flashy graphics content of modern science programmes annoys me intensely too. In many cases it seems mandatory to install ‘celebrity’ presenters to simply boost the ratings and in others the science content is so dumbed down to be inaccurate. Then there is this constant obsession with nauseating background music. I presume this musical requirement is drummed into all graduates of media studies courses just as hard as grinning insanely is drummed into North Koreans whenever a picture of Kim Jong-un is displayed?!As Nick has said, the Horizon programmes of the 1980s were a model of how to get it right. The voice of Paul Vaughan was perfect but he never appeared ‘on camera’, ensuring that the programme was about the topic and not simply a battle between rival presenters as to who can get more camera time, crack more jokes and look more insanely happy! When Bill Oddie, Kate Humble and Simon King presented Springwatch and Autumnwatch I could enjoy those programmes, but not anymore. There comes a point in modern TV where the presenters grab so much camera time that the subject matter disappears entirely. Personally, I would say that apart from David Attenborough’s programmes (surely the only presenter in Patrick’s league still surviving) the only TV Physics presenter I can comfortably watch is Jim Al-Khalili. I thought his series ‘Atom’ on BBC4 a few years ago was excellent. A lot of the BBC Natural History programmes are also excellent, at least where they have a high quality narrator, whose voice alone features in the programme, so there is no distraction caused by the attention seeking of a token ‘celebrity’ presenter.As far as The Sky at Night is concerned, well, I can never feel the same way about it since Patrick’s demise and everyone I know feels the same way. I still record it and occasionally skim through the recording, but it can never be the same show without Patrick. For more than 40 years I was an avid watcher, but things can never, ever be the same, despite the hard work of the current presenters.I might shamelessly add, that having researched and written a 330,000 word biography about Patrick, occupying much of my time over the past eleven years [out in August!] I am perhaps more familiar than most with the earliest years of The Sky at Night and Patrick’s desire to keep it a simple and low cost affair…… End of blatant book plug!Martin


    Posted by David Wiggs at 20:29 on 2013 Aug 22

    I’m quite happy with it at the moment, I do have to say I did not enjoy the Stonehenge episode it got a bit silly..David


    Posted by Nicholas Evetts at 14:44 on 2013 Aug 24

    I have to admit that the flashy new graphics do put me off and I do miss Patrick’s Editorial and Lunar bits in the magazine too. Having said that I do miss Henry Hatfield too as the both of them together at a meeting were very educational and dare I say it entertaining at the same time


    Posted by Paul A Brierley at 17:08 on 2013 Aug 24

    September’s program should hopefully be better than recent episodes. It will feature my local star party in Derbyshire from 2012.Their is a very good chance I will feature in it.


    Posted by Grant Privett at 09:24 on 2013 Sep 07

    I watched the latest episode today. It was the first time I had seen the programme in a few years. I got put off a while back for 2 main reasons:1, The subject matter was often too familiar – the disadvantage of being an astronomer for 40+ years. 2, Some of the presenters/reporters were so bad that I had to turn off to reduce my blood pressure.So, when I tried it again today I was surprised. They tried hard, and while I thought some of the content fairly superficial it was, overall, a reasonable watch for someone who has been in the hobby only a few years. The presentation is still a bit weak the original selection criteria was always bizarre but at least the standard has improved. Having watched half the Ages of Stars programme a year or so ago, its obvious that selecting good speakers who know what they are talking about is clearly a problem the BBC still has.Personally, I didnt find much of the music intrusive and had fun working out who they were spotted Tangerine Dream and Philip Glass.I cant see it surviving much longer, not because of its weaknesses (minor compared to some programmes), but because of a hostility within the media to anyone not obsessed with Facebook, celebrity, dancing, cooking or soaps. I am mildly surprised to see its still going. No doubt the BBC will announce a major restructuring of their educational science output and drop it. But at least the current team are trying.


    Posted by David Basey at 11:30 on 2013 Sep 07

    Having been critical previously, I have to say I agree with Grant, this episode was much better than those over the last few months. Still a bit lightweight in places but the interview with Sir Martin Rees regarding black holes was well worth watching.As to the vision of the future, who knows, maybe this time next year it will have become Celebrity Sky At Night On Ice!


    Posted by Bob McMaster at 23:22 on 2013 Sep 23

    I have read on another Astronomy forum that a source close to the programme has indicated that December’s forthcoming Sky at Night will technically be the last programme, with on going discussions about its future but that the BBC remains committed to the programme. This has resulted in a online petition being set up as there is real concern that the programme will be axed.I do think that prior to and following the sad loss of Sir Patrick the programme lost its way, but recent episodes with Chris Lintott and Lucie Green ably supported by Paul Abel and Pete Lawrence have improved. It would be a great shame if the BBC didn’t realise this and allowed a programme with such a past pedigree that inspired many amateur and professional astronomers not to continue to develop.All the best, Bob


    Posted by Bill Ward at 09:33 on 2013 Sep 25

    Hi,Whilst I never watched the programme religously I am undoubtably one of those described in the previous post as being inspired by the Sky at Night (a long time ago now). I have been a life long amateur and professional since.The issue of the programme being axed has now become more public with the possible demise of the Sky at Night being discussed during the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning.Personally I think the current format is rather poor. Indeed one of the issues raised by the speakers on Radio 4 was that the subject matter is now covered more widely and better on other channels and the internet/digital media. I feel if it is to survive it needs to return to a single presenter and lose the rest completely. Present a review of whats in the sky for the month ahead and bring in any experts to discuss events and topics of the day as required. Perhaps that’s considered old fashioned (rose tinted glasses etc) but it fills the need for a regular presentation of whats happening in "the sky at night". A niche audience, definitely, but the BBC is supposed to be our public service broadcaster.Anything else can be left to other programmes and broadcasters.I hope it is reformed and kept on air, maybe it will inspire future astronomers to actually go outside and have a look at the night sky!Cheers,Bill.


    Posted by Mark Jones at 12:59 on 2013 Sep 25

    This is sad news, although I can’t say I’m surprised. Patrick was The Sky At Night for so long that the programme without him was always going to struggle. With all due respect to the current presenters and their knowledge and expertise, the lack of a single, carismatic host is the main issue. Patrick was so good at convincing people that they didn’t need a mass of knowledge or a degree in astrophysics to be able to go outside and look up, and also that in doing so they too could be part of something very immersive, where anything could happen next (and often did!) – "…we just don’t know". I hope the BBC keeps the name and keeps it a monthly programme. I’d welcome seeing it as an hour-long programme with a single host exploring an area of current interest, with some kind of Sky Notes section too. Kind of a blend of the Horizon and Sky At Night format. Even better if that host could now arise from the amateur community and lead the way in true Patrick style.


    Posted by James Lancashire at 01:04 on 2013 Oct 02

    The link for the petition at is BBC petition


    Posted by John Kerr at 17:36 on 2013 Oct 02

    The correct URL is here(i.e. no http…)


    Posted by Nick Hudd at 12:46 on 2013 Oct 05

    The format has become a little odd since Patrick’s death. Lucie Green is an excellent presenter but the impression is that she has been given a role "bolted-on" to the rest. It needs one central presenter, but without any changes to the current personnel. Chris Lintott and Lucie Green doing a "double-act" looks odd. One of the non-physicists may be the best choice for presenter, though I would not be unhappy with one of the professional scientists either. Lucie Green, Chris Lintott, Pete Lawrence – all would fill the central role. Brian May? John Culshaw? They know the medium and could probably do the job. It needs to remain relatively low-level. Emulating Patrick’s enthusiasm may well need an amateur astronomer (but perhaps professional media person). NOT Brian Cox – perfectly OK but too bland.Since I re-adopted astronomy as a hobby on retirement, I am astonished just how popular it is. There are few people who have no interest at all in itNick Hudd


    Posted by Grant Privett at 09:33 on 2013 Oct 06

    The new BBC head, Tony Hall, previously of the Royal Opera House, has announced a 20% increase in arts programme funding at the corporation. I think we just found out how they propose to raise the money. I really like the BBC, but the predominant mindset at the place is that an appreciation of the artistic world rounds and builds the character, while understanding science, maths or technology makes you a nerd and the subject of veiled derision.


    Posted by Terry Byatt at 18:41 on 2014 Jan 11

    The truth is that "The Sky at Night" will never be the same again.Why? Because sadly nobody will ever be able to step into dear Patrick’s shoes.

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