Slightly Belated Star Talk TV Thoughts

Neil deGrasse Tyson's TV talk show had its debut Monday night on the National Geographic channel, something that's very relevant to my interests. It airs after I go to bed, though, so I set the DVR to record it, and watched it Tuesday afternoon. Then I was too busy yesterday to write about it...

Anyway, given how regularly I comment on Tyson's other activities, I figured I really ought to say something. Really, though, my main reaction was "What a very odd format..."

If you haven't already seen or read about this, the way it seems to work is that the show is taped in front of a live audience in the American Museum of Natural History in New York, under the giant metal ball in the Rose Center for Earth and Space. The premiere features Tyson and two live guests (comedian Leighann Lord (who I think co-hosts the Star Talk podcast) and astrophysics professor Charles Liu), but is built around an interview with George Takei. The profoundly odd thing, though, was that Takei wasn't present-- the interview had been recorded earlier, in Tyson's office, and they just played clips, which Tyson, Lord, and Liu would then talk about.

I really don't understand why they would choose this format. Tyson would spend a bit too much time introducing the clips, giving away what Takei was about to say, and then Lord and Liu would re-hash more or less what Takei just said. So, everything got said two or three times, but in a really stiff manner. The end result was just awkward-- the clips made it seem like the conversation between Tyson and Takei was pretty lively and interesting, and I think they would've been better off just airing that. The banter between the live guests was reasonably good, but having to bend their conversation around the clips broke it up to the point where they might've been better off doing without the clips.

I don't know if this was just this episode-- the photo with the AV Club's pan shows more people, so maybe the awkward clip thing was just Takei not being able to make the taping, or something. But it's really hard to get past the awkwardness of the whole thing.

And, really, all the weaknesses of the premiere kind of come back to that. The conversation with Takei clearly had a lot more than was shown, and some of the clips are cut off in a way that suggests something more interesting was coming up. But the need to cut them down to fit in live banter prevents it from getting any real momentum. And the need to fit in a lot of different clips keeps the live discussion from going into much depth. They hit the high points of several things-- Takei's family being sent to an internment camp during WWII, the diversity of Star Trek, and analogies between Star Trek technology and real-world technology-- but it would've been more interesting had they gone into greater depth on pretty much any of those subjects.

(Admittedly, my opinion is slightly skewed by the fact that I don't find Star Trek all that intrinsically fascinating, and I've heard Takei say most of this stuff before. Somebody who likes Trek more but has somehow managed to avoid Takei's late-career omnipresence might feel differently.)

So, you know, it's hard to evaluate the show based just on this. It's possible that future episodes might smooth out some of the awkwardness of the format (assuming this isn't just a one-off thing), and there were a few things that will clearly get better with practice (it's a little jarring when Tyson switches out of conversational mode in order to toss to commercial, for example, that I suspect will get smoother over time). so, I'll keep DVRing it, and try to comment in a more timely manner next week.

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You have not listened to his pod casts. They are not all like this most are done with the person live there. I think he needs to get a science perspective since it is a science show after all, that's why he did this one this way. Leanne Lords is a semi reg on the podcast not one of the better ones but she is a big trekkie. Most of the time it will be Chuck Nice. He is intelligent smart and funny and in my opinion the best comedian co host. Bill Nye is a close personal friend of Dr. Tyson I think that's why he gets a couple of mins He did move to NY because of this I think. It was a little stained and Dr. Tyson although is getting use to the camera, really don't have it YET but I believe he will adjust as time goes by, may take next season to make the major adjustments. All in all I liked it and will be a regular watcher.

By Raymond Schachner (not verified) on 23 Apr 2015 #permalink

You're right; I haven't listened to the podcast. I'm really not a podcast/ talk radio guy-- audio of people talking just puts me to sleep. Audiobooks are even worse that way.