THE NATURE OF THINGS

Canadian Science Program

One of the longest-running television shows in Canadian history, The Nature of Things has aired continuously since 6 November 1960. An hour-long general science program, the show began as a half-hour series--an attempt, as the first press release phrased it, "to put weekly science shows back on North American television schedules." It billed itself as "unique on this continent. On every other television network, the scientist will have stepped aside for the comedian, the gunfighter or the private-eye." The multi-award-winning show has been broadcast in more than 80 countries, including the United States, on The Discovery Channel and PBS.

The first producer of the show was Norman Caton and the first hosts were Professor Patterson Ivey and his colleague Professor Donald Hume of the University of Toronto. Ivey had co-hosted a series in 1959 called Two for Physics, and CBC hoped that the time was ripe for a new science series. The series produced shows on the causes of schizophrenia, a review of space technology, a study on how the brain works, and a study of the controlled isolation of human beings. In keeping with the then-lofty aspirations of the CBC, the show was named after the poem by the Roman philosopher, Lucretius, called "De Rerum Natural"-"The Nature of Things."

Since 1979, David Suzuki has been the host of The Nature of Things. As a biologist and geneticist, he has been very conscious of the nature of evolution and growth. An ardent and vocal environmental conservationist, Suzuki writes a weekly column in The Toronto Star and is a social activist for environmental causes. In the beginning, Suzuki appeared an awkward and stilted host, but over the years, his manner has relaxed and his delivery improved to the point that the show is practically synonymous with the former fruit-fly geneticist. In fact, its official title is now The Nature of Things with David Suzuki, and the host is recognized throughout Canada.

Some of the topics which the show has explored over the years are the disintegration of books in libraries, the disappearance of old-growth forests, euthanasia, drugs in sports, chaos theory, the history of rubber, the Penan tribe of Malaysia, farmers' use of pesticides, the use of animals in research, forensic science, air crashes, the James Bay hydro-electric project, endangered species, lasers, global warming, and children's toys. Many individual shows have been produced under the subject headings of endangered species, dimensions of the mind, aspects and diseases of the human body, the global economy and international issues. The Nature of Things repeatedly investigates controversial topics long before they become popular in the general press: in 1972 it did a show on acupuncture and in 1969 one on the dangers of pollution. One show was accused of bias by the forest industry and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce pulled its commercials from the CBC. Another on the global economy and its effect on the environment was also criticized by some groups as being unbalanced. The Nature of Things, however, has never been charged with shirking the tough issues.

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of The Nature of Things in l990, Suzuki wrote in The Toronto Star that in the gimmicky world of television-land, where only the new is exciting, "the longevity of a TV series is just like the persistence of a plant or animal species--it reflects the survival of the fittest." In its first 30 years, the program had only three executive producers--John Livingston, James (Jim) Murray, Nancy Archibald, and then James Murray again (from 1979 to the present).

 

 


Nature of Things
Photo courtesy of CBC

In 1971 Suzuki hosted Suzuki on Science, another CBC science show. Suzuki was by this time also heard on CBC Radio, as host of Quirks and Quarks, which remains a popular staple of the national radio network today. In 1979, Science Magazine, which Suzuki had hosted since 1974, and The Nature of Things were combined into a one-hour show, with Murray as executive producer for the second time. Suzuki has also been an assistant professor at the University of Alberta (Edmonton) and a full professor at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver). In 1977 he was named to the Order of Canada, the country's highest honour.

Ratings dropped somewhat in 1990, but CBC retained the show. The show has changed with the times, often being the first to explore new subject areas, but the fact that it has been so successful can also be attributed to the ability of its makers to make science understandable, interesting and entertaining to audiences who differ widely in age, class, race and cultural background.

-Janice Kaye

HOSTS/PRESENTERS

Lister Sinclair, Patterson Ivey, Donald Hume, John Livingston, David Suzuki

PRODUCERS       David Walker, John Livingston, James Murray, Nancy Archibald, Norm Caton, Lister Sinclair

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

CBC
1960-1980                                           Weekly Half Hour 1980-                                                  Weekly One Hour

FURTHER READING

Stewart, Sandy. Here's Looking at Us: A Personal History of Television in Canada. Toronto: CBC Enterprises, 1986.