There have been rumours rumbling around for the last few weeks, and it was something we were all worried would happen once Patrick Moore died, but the Daily Telegraph and The Guardian have now broken the story that the BBC is planning to cancel The Sky at Night in the New Year. An alternative would be to revamp the series, but this would have to be handled very carefully. Revamps of long running science programmes, such as Time Team, can all too easily go disastrously wrong. The Sky at Night has a loyal following of about 250000 viewers and currently has such a tiny budget that the science content is king. Attempts to push to a larger audience and more flashy presentation will risk ruining that dynamic, which has been established over 50 years.
Other revamps of science shows by the BBC, for example of Horizon some years back (‘real science, real drama’ – argh!) or Material World on radio 4 more recently (with much loved, and very skilled, presenter Quentin thrown on the scrap heap) have not gone well, possibly because the arts dominated BBC really doesn’t understand an audience that wants content and cares less about flashy presentation or flashy presenters.
There is a petition at chamge.org to save the show, so please go there and sign it, but, more than keeping it on air, we need to make sure that its focus remains on content, on the science, and doesn’t get diverted to something that will just put off its highly loyal audience.