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Horizon (BBC TV series): Wikis


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Horizon logo.jpg
Horizon title card
Genre Science, technology
Format Documentary
Starring Various
Narrated by Paul Vaughan (c. 1980 - late 1990s)
Country of origin United Kingdom
Producer(s) Liz Tucker
Andrew Thompson
Jacqui Smith
Andrew Cohen
Malcolm Clark
Matthew Barrett
Running time 59 min
Original channel BBC
Picture format PAL
Original run 2 May 1964 (1964-05-02) – present
External links
Official website

Horizon is a current and long-running BBC popular science and philosophy documentary programme.



The programme was first broadcast on 2 May 1964 with The World of Buckminster Fuller which explored the theories and structures of inventor Richard Buckminster Fuller and included the Horizon mission statement, The aim of Horizon is to provide a platform from which some of the world's greatest scientists and philosophers can communicate their curiosity, observations and reflections, and infuse into our common knowledge their changing views of the universe.[1]


There have been over 1000 episodes made and broadcast.[1]

Broad coverage of science topics

Horizon has investigated an eclectic mix of subjects and controversial topics such as 'Does the MMR jab cause autism?'; it opened the awareness of consumers to the use of whale meat in pet food in 1972; and produced award-winning documentary-dramas such as 'Life Story' in 1987 which dramatised the discovery of the structure of DNA. [1]


The format of the series has varied over the years.



In the 1960s, Horizon was a magazine format with three or four items per episode and each episode varied in length. [1]


Since the early 1990s, Horizon has developed a distinctive narrative form, typically employing an underlying "detective" metaphor, to relate scientific issues and discoveries to the lives of its viewers. Many episodes of Horizon are structured in a format that starts with a tease or menu laying out what the show has in store, followed by two 'acts' with a 'plot twist' around 25-35 minutes into the show. The twist frequently propels the story line from a focus on an individual scientist's human and intellectual journey of discovery through to explore the impact of that insight while, at the same time, providing a change of 'texture' and filmic pace. Often, episodes of Horizon end up with a montage of "talking heads" as experts and people affected by the implications of the science covered are intercut to create a sense of summary.


Until early 2008, the length was standardised at 50 minutes, which was extended in the later half of 2008 to 60 minutes. Some episodes are adapted from documentaries by other broadcasters such as PBS's NOVA[2], and episodes of Horizon are in turn adapted by PBS and other broadcasters around the world. Michael Ambrosino, while serving a year-long fellowship with the BBC, was inspired by Horizon and went on to create the long-running NOVA series on the same model [3][4].


Horizon has also enjoyed extremely high viewing figures, even though it covered subjects as complex as molecular biology and particle physics. It has shown a change of direction since June 2006, offering a more light-hearted approach, though the subjects it covers remain serious.


The down-side to Horizon's recent focus on 'Pure Science, Sheer Drama' and the occasionally forced narrative this engenders has led to some accusations of dumbing down in recent years[5][6][7], with one former editor writing a newspaper article about how the programme concentrates too much on human stories, and not enough on the science.[8]

One programme Chimps are people too was entirely presented by a non-scientist, Danny Wallace. Editor Andrew Cohen addressed the reasons why the programme went down this route on the Horizon web page. [9]


In the period of "Pure Science, Sheer Drama", Horizon won an unprecedented series of the world's top awards, including a BAFTA, an Emmy for Best Documentary, a Royal Television Society Award and a Grierson Trust Award.

See also

  • Q.E.D. – 1980s and 90s documentary series on BBC1, focussing on more populist science topics than Horizon
  • EquinoxChannel 4 science programme, similar to Q.E.D. and last produced in 2001


  1. ^ a b c d BBC Press Office, "40 facts for Horizon's 40th birthday", retrieved 13 July 2008
  2. ^ Neal, Stephen, "Re: BBC Alert! 'Horizon' 7 March", Usenet. Comment written 8 March 2002, retrieved 4 November 2006
  3. ^ See Ambrosino and Nova: making stories that go ‘bang’, Current, 4 May 1998
  4. ^ "For Curious Grownups" Time magazine, Apr. 29, 1974
  5. ^ Orlowski, Andrew, "BBC abandons science", The Register. Article dated 27 October 2006, retrieved 4 November 2006.
  6. ^ Various, "BBC Horizon letters", The Register. Published 4 November 2006, retrieved 4 November 2006.
  7. ^ Close, Frank, "Fears over factoids", Physics World. Published 3 August 2007.
  8. ^ Goodchild, Peter, "Clouds on the Horizon", Article written 7 October 2004.
  9. ^ [1]

External links

Video clips


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