Production Journal: Nov. 28, 1994

The downlink sites and all the Jason planning staff met in Boston for three days of review before the Thanksgiving holiday. Much attention focused on the interactivity exercises, which are not as yet completely worked out. We also looked at the overall approach of the broadcast and made several important adjustments. Perhaps the most important element in the entire production is the role of the argonauts -- the teenage students who will go with us and work with the scientists. Important not so much because a lot is demanded of them, but because they serve as the surrogate for the students at the downlink sites. These students represent the audience. They will be assigned to various positions, including a vision specialist team working with telescopes and spectroscopic instruments; a geology team with the volcanologists; and a life sciences team with the biologists. They will rotate once during the week they are on site, so that they get a chance to sample work in at least two disciplines. The argonauts will play a more prominent role than in past years, when they have had a valuable off-camera experience but not much on-camera exposure -- with a couple of exceptions.

One reason we can put more emphasis on the argonauts is our basic philosophy of the production, which is to capture the work of scientists in progress, not in lectures to the camera. There will still be asides to explain what is happening on camera, of course, but we will strive to show interesting work unfolding before the eye with a minimum of didactic teaching. The scientists will want to get some actual work done, but they need extra hands to do so and also be ready to demonstrate it for the camera. That is where the argonauts come in, preparing and setting up and keeping track, and continuing the work when the scientist is distracted by the needs of production.

In some cases, the argonauts will carry out some of the model experiments outlined in the curriculum guide. At other times they will be seen on tape gathering samples, or live making observations. If any of them are reading this, our advice is not to try to prepare; just relax and be ready to respond to whatever comes up. Argonauts are not actors, any more than the scientists are. Jason is not a "show" but a unique window on scientific work. We do not try to create a seamless, glossy narrative, because to do so live would require eliminating uncertainty and spontaneity. Then what would be the point of doing a live program?

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Gene Carl Feldman ( (301) 286-9428
Todd Carlo Viola, JASON Foundation for Education (