About The Ascent of Money 2-Hour Special

January 14th, 2009

Inside Thirteen blogger: William R. Grant, Executive Producer, The Ascent of Money and Director of Science, Natural History, and Features Programs at WNET.ORG

A few hours before the two-hour television special The Ascent of Money went to air, I took a phone call from someone who works with a Midwest venture capitalist anxious to be able to tell her boss “how he would look in the show.” I understood the boss’ concern. Few financiers look good these days.

Our rules prohibit talking about the details of programs with participants before the broadcast. I talked with her about the program in general and she promised to let me know the reaction in her office. We’ll see.

The two-hour broadcast was an important way-station in a long and complicated production that began two years ago when Stephen Segaller, who was then WNET’s director of news and public affairs programs and is now vice-president of content, began taking with Niall Ferguson about Ferguson’s plans to do a book and a television series on the history of the global economy.

Ferguson is a Scottish historian educated at Oxford who holds appointments in both the history department and the Business School at Harvard University. Ferguson had been on PBS in 2006 with his series War of the World, his reinterpretation of World War II, and now he would do the roots of the current world economy. As it turned out, it was something like trying to analyze World War II while the war was going on. During 2008, especially during the last months of production in the fall, bad news was followed by worse news as the economy of most of the world plummeted into deep recession.

The plan had been to broadcast a four-hour series on PBS in June but PBS asked us to create a shorter version earlier. We raced to cut a two-hour program (watch it online) for broadcast this week. We scrambled, and thanks to Niall’s production team, especially producer Adrian Pennink, and our own Stephanie Carter, who climbed over a mountain of problems to get the program to PBS in time for air, we did it. But as I said, this was a way-station. The four-hour version is still scheduled for Spring, and it is yet to be finished.

Promo for the Ascent of Money: