Tangled Bank Studios Plans Science Documentaries for TV and the Classroom

Former National Geographic TV chief Michael Rosenfeld will oversee Tangled Bank Studios

Doctors, scientists and normal geeks have a new studio to look to: Tangled Bank.

HHMIThe Howard Hughes Medical Institute has launched the new production company, which will make science documentaries for the mass public and educational purposes.

Hughes, the legendary businessman and aviator, founded HHMI in 1953. Since Hughes' death in 1976, HHMI has grown into one of the largest orgnaizations for medical research in the country, boasting an endowment of more than $16 billion.

One of the biggest private supporters of science education in the United States, the institute announced a $60 million TV and film production initiative in May 2011, and Tangled Bank will be the primary vehicle for it. Michael Rosenfeld, the former president of National Geographic Television who joined the initiative last year, will lead the new company.

"HHMI has a very extensive effort in science education, reaching students and teachers and college professors. This builds on that approach by reaching the general public and a general audience," Rosenfeld told TheWrap. "We want to get really good stories about science out there for people; that's really the objective and the mission. 

"Science is so misunderstood in our culture and this feels like an important undertaking," he later added. "TV is an entertainment medium so it's about finding that balance between substance and entertainment."

Tangled Bank’s initial slate of productions includes “Your Inner Fish,” the story of how human anatomy has been shaped over the past 3.5 billions years, and “The Quest to Map the World,” a series about explorers and scientists who embarked on life-threatening adventures to map the planet.

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They will air on PBS domestically while Off the Fence will distribute them internationally. All of the footage will also be used to make short films for classroom purposes as part of HHMI’s educational media program.

Rosenfeld will consider theatrical release for some projects, and is also aware of how consumption habits have changed. Yet while many viewers may want to view these videos online, TV will be the launching point because of its large audience.

"It's really about reach. In TV you can high and low ratings, but you know it will be in a certain range," Rosenfeld said."The web is more uncrtain. You could take off or you could not. When you're putting this much effort in, you want security it will at least reach a certain number."

The production company will remain editorially independent from its parent company, a non-profit medical research organization. An independent advisory board of scientists will review content for each production.

The company's name stems from the final words of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of the Species":

"It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us."