The 'Nova' Man Is Bursting With Bright Ideas

By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, January 9, 2009


After an exhausting first afternoon of the I Think I'll Just Take Some of These Dinner Rolls Home to Feed My Hungry Children Winter TV Press Tour 2009, debating with PBS suits whether Charles Dickens would or would not have written for television and whether his TV series would have been better than "The Sopranos" -- yes, seriously -- critics were happy to kick back on Day 2 and mull whether the swearing-in of Barack Obama will mean "the end of the war on science or is it just a temporary cease-fire."

Super-slick astrophysicist/TV personality Neil deGrasse Tyson -- who so far as we know is still waiting to be asked by the Obama administration to become the head of NASA -- explained patiently that while the Bush administration "is widely regarded as campaigning against science," there were, in fact, "very specific branches of science that were resisted in the Bush administration" but "it would not be correct to say that all branches of science were thusly affected."

That said, the affected areas were "quite tasty to the press because they involved global climate and stem cell and this sort of thing," Tyson said, flashing critics his blindingly brilliant made-for-TV super-smile.

Tyson, who was there to help PBS plug "Nova" -- yeah, right -- assured TV critics he has his finger on the pulse of the Obama situation:

"I know many people who are close to [Obama] and informing his science policy, particularly his space policy," Tyson said, smiling.

He told critics that "there are some rough edges at the beginning [of a new administration], trying to sort of shape the relationship between investments in science, space exploration, and what the consequence of that is on the education system of the nation and on the stability of our economy -- because we all know that innovations in sciences and technology in the 21st century will be the engines of tomorrow's economies.

"So over the months the policies start to take shape," he continued. "We all have high hopes and confidence that it will be implemented in a way that would restore America's place as a technological leader in the world," Tyson concluded, because even Tyson eventually has to stop to take a breath.

"Nova" senior executive producer Paula S. Apsell, onstage with Tyson, thanked critics for the "enormous amount of . . . negative critical feeling" they created among some viewers for "Nova's" show on "The Bible's Buried Secrets," which explored the hypothesis that humans wrote the Bible.

"The fundamentalists really took issue with that," she said happily.

And, of course, angry people watch shows they think they're going to hate. That's TV 101. NBC really needs to hear this.

"In truth, I think a lot of those people watched," causing a spike in ratings, Apsell told critics. After which "we didn't hear a peep."

Meanwhile, Tyson, having caught his breath, wanted critics to know that parents are discouraging their kids from going into sciences by yelling at them when they do things like breaking a piece of the family crystal (Junior is simply learning that brittle things break) or banging on pots and pans (merely an experiment in acoustics).

* * *

Interest is very high among TV critics over Friday's promised appearance of Patrick Swayze.

Pancreatic cancer-stricken Swayze will be among the panelists at a Q&A session to promote his new A&E series, "The Beast."

So naturally, we wondered how many people watched ABC's Wednesday broadcast of Swayze's interview with Barbara "Cry Me a River" Walters.

Turns out, nearly 13 million people -- the night's biggest draw, and ABC's biggest audience in the Wednesday 10 p.m. hour since May -- watched Babs work her tear-jerking magic on Swayze's wife of three decades, Lisa Niemi, asking her things like if she'd thought about what her life is going to be like once Swayze is, you know, dead.

Babs also tried her darndest to get Swayze to weep, but we think she did not succeed, though we can't be sure, what with one thing or another distracting us during the broadcast -- dog insisting on being chased around sofa, e-mails to be answered, etc. We can report that Babs finally resorted to showing footage of her 1988 interview with Swayze in which he did, in fact, weep buckets when she peppered him with questions about his dad -- who had just died.

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