An interview with the producer of Stargazing LIVE

Meet the producer behind the BBC's amateur astronomy extravaganza Stargazing LIVE

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Image Credit: 
Keaton Stone

 

We talk to Alan Holland, series producer for Stargazing LIVE…

 

Before we talk about the new series of Stargazing LIVE, tell us about the first one – it must have been quite nerve-wracking, working on a show for which there was no previous blueprint at all?
I don’t think any of us really knew what to expect, if I’m honest. On paper, it was always a risky idea – how on earth would we pull off a live astronomy show in Britain in the middle of January? The prospect of the whole thing being a write-off due to cloud cover was never far from my mind for the entire pre-production process, so my initial reaction as soon as it was over was, ‘Thank God!’. It was only once the dust had settled that we realised how amazing the response had been. We knew that there was an appreciative audience out there for all things astronomical, but we had no idea the series would resonate with quite as many people as it did.

Were you surprised, then, by how popular the series proved to be?
Some of the numbers were staggering. We had 3.5 million people watching the show on television each night, 2.3 million downloading our free Starguide, 40,000 people attending one of our live events, further thousands submitting their astrophotographs – it was just mind-blowing. We’ve heard that telescopes and planispheres were selling out all over the country, that record numbers of people were signing up to join local astronomy groups – it was a bigger reaction than any of us could have imagined, and an extremely rewarding experience for all of us.

What do you hope that Stargazing LIVE will achieve in 2012?
The core principle of the series remains the same – to turn people on to the wonders of the night sky, and show people that there is something up there for everyone to embrace and enjoy, no matter what their level of experience or knowledge may be. The show is designed for beginners and dedicated amateurs alike, so if we do our job right there should be something in there to entertain and excite absolutely everyone.

But Stargazing LIVE isn’t just about the television show, is it?
No, we really want the experience to live on long after the credits on the final programme have rolled, so we have a really exciting programme of live events taking place all over the country in the weeks after the transmissions. We had over 300 last year, and we’re aiming for far more this time, so there will be even more opportunities than ever for the public to get out there and try it for themselves.

What are you most looking forward to about the 2012 series?
Last year, one of the most exciting things about doing the shows was the huge amount of questions and photographs that were sent in to us by the public. We received thousands and thousands, so we’re making a big effort to incorporate more of them into the show this time around, and that’s something I’m really excited about. In terms of subject matter, we’ll be tackling completely new topics this year, so I’m really looking forward to seeing where those discussions take us.

That sounds intriguing… what kind of subjects?
I don’t want to give too much away but we’ll be tackling areas as diverse as galaxy formation, black holes, exoplanet hunting and the search for life, so there will be plenty of talking points. There’s also the small matter of an extra show every night – as well as the main 60-minute episodes we’ll be doing an extra 30-minute discussion show where we’ll look at that night’s topics in much more detail, examine the night’s best photographs and take questions directly from the viewers. The idea is to try and do it largely unrehearsed so that it can really be shaped by the audience, so goodness knows what will happen!


 

Stargazing LIVE is on BBC Two on 16, 17 and 18 January at 8pm. Find out more about the making of the series in our feature in the January issue of Sky at Night Magazine. Or click here to find out more about getting involved in Stargazing LIVE events across the country. 

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