Today is an exciting day for CuriosityStream, with the release of the second episode of our Emmy® Award-winning Original Series, Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places (SHFP). This series has not only been a huge success and one of our highest rated programs, but it continues to enthrall our viewers (and our own team!) by sparking curiosity about our Universe. Working with the award-winning theoretical physicist and bestselling author Stephen Hawking as our tour guide, we couldn’t be in better hands. We sat down with Ben Bowie of Bigger Bang Productions, executive producer of the series, to learn about what differentiates the sequel from episode one, as well as what the future of the series has in store for viewers.
CuriosityStream (CS): I think it’s fair to say that episode two is even bigger and better that episode one. Talk about the decision to turn the focus toward the biggest question there is: “the theory of everything.” When Hawking takes us in search of the secret of the Universe, isn’t he really enacting and dramatizing his life’s work?
Ben Bowie (BB): Professor Hawking decided very early in his career to concentrate on the biggest mysteries he could find because, due to his illness, he didn’t know how much time he would have. Why the Universe is as it is, is indeed the biggest mystery one can contemplate. We decided this quest would be the subject of SHFP 2 and its follow up, SHFP 3, because only that question encompasses his life’s work. All the rest follows from that one decision. So, indeed, it is an attempt to make that journey accessible to as wide an audience as possible.
CS: The “S.S. Hawking” reveals some extraordinary new capabilities in this episode. What were some of the most exciting and fun sequences for you to create?
BB: Well, believe it or not, it was a difficult decision to allow the SS Hawking to be able to do ‘anything’ – even break the laws of physics! We weren’t sure if taking the series in that direction was the best thing to do or not. But, in the end, being a product of Stephen’s imagination, the ship is not bound by the law of physics because it is like the human mind: able to imagine anything it can. That’s our great superpower, and Stephen has it to a greater extent than most. Once we had crossed that threshold, we delighted in many of the things we could imagine such a ship doing. Diving into the Sun, visiting a ruined alien civilization, and getting trapped in a situation that not even the ship could escape were all wonderful scenarios that we had great fun working through. Getting Stephen to engage in these fantastical episodes, imagining himself in them, was truly a highlight of my career.
CS: There is a sequence where Hawking dives into Venus that is not only visually stunning, but the sequence sends a pretty strong message to climate change deniers. Whose idea was that?
BB: One thing about Stephen is that he is very passionate about the environment and mankind’s influence on it. The way that sequence came to be is because during production, the United States withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement. That decision spurred Stephen to make Venus the first stop on his new journey in this episode. Planet-wide, catastrophic climate change is not a theory. Venus – the nearest planet to ours – has undergone such a process, and if we can’t learn from that example, we are simply deluding ourselves. The challenge was how to make that sequence exciting rather than tub-thumping, and if we succeeded it was thanks to some dazzling extravehicular activity from Commander Hawking himself.
CS: What do you hope people take away from this series? Having worked with Professor Hawking so many times over the years, what makes this series special?
BB: This series is the closest to the very first idea I had for a show with Stephen, yet was never able to make until the folks at CuriosityStream allowed us at Bigger Bang the creative freedom to try it. For the first time, we see the world’s most famous scientist engaging with the Universe up close. That is an incredible rarity! We also tried very hard to show the scale of things and to reveal how Stephen’s life story has driven his research. So, I hope this is a new way of communicating science to people of all ages; an exciting adventure but with real (and possibly troubling) science at its heart. By the end, I hope people will stop arguing about trivial stuff because we should focus on preserving the most amazing thing we know that exists in the Universe – the human race.
CS: SHFP 2 ends with a cliffhanger, but fortunately for viewers, it’s not the last episode in the series! Without revealing too much, can you give us a hint of what to expect from SHFP 3?
BB: Ah ha! Yes, difficult not to give too much away. Let’s just say that SHFP 3 takes things to a whole new level, both with what the ship can do and what Hawking can do with it…
Watch the Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places 2 trailer here:
Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places 2 is available now, only on CuriosityStream, and episode three will be released on April 19, 2018. You can also watch episode one, which earned CuriosityStream its first Emmy® Award in 2017.