While we are mourning the passing of the epically brilliant Stephen Hawking, we are comforted by the fact that his profound insights into the workings of our Universe will live on and will inspire and inform future generations of humans who simply long to understand.
At CuriosityStream, we will always be grateful that Stephen Hawking passionately wanted to share his enthusiasm for the wonders of the Universe with his fellow humans. His dedicated and tireless work on television projects that took viewers to the furthest reaches of his mind and the cosmos he sought to deeply understand are treasured gifts to humanity. Although Stephen Hawking demonstrated a remarkable optimism about our capacity to understand the Universe, he also cautioned us about the fragility of our human condition as we currently remain bound to a small planet subject to meteor strikes and other natural and manmade catastrophes. In the end, he urged us all to get on with the quest to explore and populate worlds beyond our origin. He will always remain a towering figure in the history of human thought and inspiration.
In tribute, please enjoy our complete Emmy® Award-winning series, Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places, including the newly released third and final episode, free of charge until March 23, 2018.
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…
We are just one week away from the premiere of one of our most exciting original documentaries to date, Miniverse. The film features the always wonderful CuriosityStream advisory board member Michio Kaku, as well as astronomers Derrick Pitts and Laura Danly, and is hosted by former astronaut Chris Hadfield. All of you space fans out there may remember Commander Hadfield as a YouTube sensation for his performance of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” aboard the International Space Station. Well, it turns out he’s just as fun and creative to work with as you might imagine. We sat down with Doug Cohen, executive producer of Flight 33, to live vicariously through him about working with one of the world’s greatest astronauts.
Q: What was Chris Hadfield (CH) like to work with?
A: Chris is a former fighter pilot and an astronaut, so the things that felt like challenges to the rest of us were no sweat to him. To quote one member of our crew, “Chris Hadfield is the best human being I’ve ever met.” It’s not just that he’s charming, curious and tireless; it’s also that he sings, plays guitar, tells great stories and, of course, he’s been to space!
Q: What was the funniest thing that happened while shooting Miniverse?
A: Chris had spent the whole day driving at about 40 miles per hour through the Mojave Desert while chatting with astronomer Laura Danly. We kept his speed down to reduce the amount of road noise during the conversation. As the sun set, we prepped to shoot beauty shots of the car driving down the lonely desert highway. I radioed to Chris that he should drive past the camera, and since we weren’t rolling sound he was now free to go as fast as he wanted. When I called “action”, he put the pedal to the metal and whipped past us at 122 miles per hour with poor Laura Danly holding on for dear life! That’s the last time I tell a former fighter pilot to drive as fast as he wants!
Q: Describe the dynamic between CH and Michio Kaku.
A: They were excited to meet each other! It was fun to watch the contrast between astrophysicist and astronaut. Michio made it clear that despite his fascination with space, he had no interest in doing something risky like traveling to Mars. Chris, on the other hand, said that the danger is precisely what makes him want to do it.
Q: Between CH and Derrick Pitts?
A: Derrick would have liked to be an astronaut himself, so he was thrilled to be Chris’ guide for the outer planets. The two of them bonded over some packets of freeze-dried “astronaut ice cream.”
Q: Between CH and Laura Danly?
A: When we asked Laura if she wanted to participate in the program, she said “you had me at Chris Hadfield”. They had a lot of time to talk as we drove from the mountains to the desert, and it was amazing how many things they saw reminded them of Star Trek episodes.
Q: What’s the hardest part of shooting so much inside of a car?
A: We had five cameras rolling inside the car at all times, plus cameras affixed to the exterior and to a chase car. That’s a lot of cameras that need a lot of tending. You are constantly stopping to troubleshoot misbehaving gear. We studied how James Corden does it for Carpool Karaoke and how Seinfeld’s team does it for Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, and took the best ideas from both. The difference with our show is that we were really traveling from place to place, so we couldn’t just stake out a route on a local road and keep circling. The entire country was our “set”.
Q: Why did the cops keep pulling CH over?
A: We had no problems in most of the country, but in New York and Washington, D.C. the police were extremely “curious” about this car with cameras all over the windows. Sometimes, we would neglect to remove our prop license plate that said “ROCKET”. That also drew the attention of the police on a couple occasions. One officer removed the license plate and cut in half! Luckily, we had made an extra one. In general, when we would tell the cops that we were making a science documentary with an astronaut and a bunch of astrophysicists, they let us go with nothing more than a confused look.
Q: Are there any funny stories from shooting in NYC near the Freedom Tower?
A: We shot at the Brooklyn Bridge across the river from Freedom Tower just before sunset, and as we were shooting, people were lining up to meet Chris and Michio. This actually happened almost everywhere–hotel lobbies, the steps of the Washington Monument–people from all over the world would show up and ask for an autograph or a selfie.
Miniverse premieres the week of April 17, only on CuriosityStream, and will be available in standard, HD and Ultra HD 4K resolution.
Ancient Earth is available now in Ultra HD 4k, HD and standard definition on CuriosityStream. This 3-part original series awakens the magnificent prehistoric creatures that previously roamed Earth through extraordinary animation, produced in collaboration with 12-time Emmy Award winning Pixeldust Studios.
Who isn’t curious about the creatures that roamed the Earth long before mankind? The success of blockbuster films about dinosaurs, history museums, children’s books and more prove that the prehistoric age is as much a part of modern day pop culture and interest than ever before.
Over here at CuriosityStream, we’ve heard from several of you (and your kiddos!) that you just can’t get enough content about all things prehistoric. Today, we’re delivering on that request with our new original, exclusive series Ancient Earth, which will take you on an extraordinary journey back in time to an era when ferocious saber-toothed carnivores, terrifying 40-foot sharks and massive dinosaurs dominated our planet. The series couldn’t come at a more relevant time, as scientists are gathering growing evidence that we’re now in the middle of our planet’s sixth mass extinction, with dramatic declines in wildlife populations around the world.
Everyone will find something for them in Ancient Earth. Animation lovers will nerd out over incredibly realistic animations that bring to life some of the fascinating and almost otherworldly creatures that once lived, but were wiped out during the worst mass extinction events. History buffs will be equally tantalized, as the series is based on the newest resources and research from experts at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History. Kids of all ages will love that watching a show featuring fight scenes and stories of dinosaur survival and extinction is approved by their parents. And those parents can be happy knowing that the series is not only a lesson in prehistoric creatures, but nature as well, since each episode offers an immersive experience with period-accurate environmental and landscape elements.
Ancient Earth features the extraordinary lifeforms that evolved during three of Earth’s most significant geologic periods, and the cataclysmic events that resulted in their demise:
Episode 1 – The Permian Period introduces viewers to the life that sprung forth on land and sea more than 252 million years ago, including terrifying creatures like the saber-toothed Gorgonopsid and shark-like Helicoprion.
Episode 2 – The Triassic Period reveals how the power of evolution ushered in the first era of early dinosaurs, most of which were ultimately annihilated by waves of lava and toxic gas from extreme volcanic activity.
Episode 3 – The Cretaceous Period highlights magnificent dinosaurs like Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus Rex, and massive pterosaurs like Quetzalcoatius—one of the largest flying creatures of all time.
My father [Discovery Channel founder, John Hendricks] debuted the world’s first ad-free, nonfiction streaming service on March 18, 2015 and ever since, our small, hardworking team has been quite busy. We have licensed or personally produced over 1,300 programs (more than 500 hours of quality, nonfiction documentaries) and launched streaming apps across Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV as well as Android and iOS. In late September, the service went global, opening access to CuriosityStream in 196 countries worldwide. For inquiring minds, we’ve learned that Scandinavia and Australia have been our best international markets to date. A special shout-out to our Norwegian, Danish, Swedish and Australian members!
In December, CuriosityStream’s partnership with Amazon distributed our documentaries via Amazon Prime’s SVOD service and our CuriosityStream Gift Cards proved to be popular holiday items and are available 365 days a year.
The early months of this year have seen us introduce a personalized recommendation engine (matching users to each other for smarter program suggestions), debut another 30 hours of outstanding documentaries and incorporate a discounted pricing structure. Now members may save 16% a year by switching to an Annual Plan; visit Your Account page to make this change to an existing subscription. Our Sign Up page also features this discounted payment option for 12 months of service.
I couldn’t be more proud of our dedicated team of talented producers, brilliant engineers and a host of other consummate professionals that continue to refine the world’s leading online, nonfiction destination.
With our direct membership model, CuriosityStream may exhibit quality, ad-free documentaries exclusively for lifelong learners. This leaves the service unencumbered by the interests of advertisers, a concern that sways programming away from the rich depth of scientific and intellectual inquiry. By remaining ad-free, CuriosityStream preserves a simplicity of purpose: deliver affordable content that enriches, enlightens, enchants and thereby empowers curious humans to better understand our world.
Thank you so much for your support in this first year. Stay tuned and stay curious!
Elizabeth Hendricks North is the President & CEO of CuriosityStream. Follow her on Twitter @ehendricksnorth.