OT: James Burke's Connections

For many years, I have been a big fan of the Connections TV series on PBS, which originally aired on BBC in Britain. It was an entertaining history of science and technology, showing how an advancement in one area, led to advancements in other areas. A few years later, James Burke followed up with The Day the Universe Changed, which I consider a superior series to Connections.

I was therefore excited when I learned that Burke had recently produced a brand new Connections series with the Curiosity Stream documentary channel. Below is the trailer from YouTube.

A short review:
I wanted to like it more than I did. One of the main differences is that Burke recorded the new series entirely in a studio environment. At age 87, I guess he doesn’t want to travel around the world, filming in various locales, as he did with the original. And the new version does have some impressive computer animation to go along with Burke’s dialog.

Another major difference with the new version is that Burke doesn’t just show how science and technology developed to the present day. Instead, he projects into the future, predicting what might happen, given past events and some educated guesses based on current trends. Some of these projections are less believable than others, in my opinion.

Overall, I give the new series a thumbs up. But it is not an enthusiastic thumb. The new series is worth the time and money, but somehow just doesn’t have the same charm and fun as the original.

  • Pete

The original was far superior to this one. Worth watching, but disappointing in that it didn’t live up to the original series.

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I enjoyed the original series. though some parts were overdramatized, and some of the “connections” were forced. There were a flock of series like that in the 80s. “Secret Life Of Machines” and “The Body In Question” were a couple of my favorites.


If you have never seen it, or if it has been a while, you might enjoy this short clip from the original Connections series. The final sequence has been called the Best Timed Shot in Television.

  • Pete

Pretty hard to not get it timed right, given that Mission Control is giving a second by second countdown. :slight_smile:


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Yes, but he had to read his monologue and do some walking into the frame and turn and point and get it all right the first time. He wasn’t going to get a second chance. Personally, I think it was an excellent trick. It was not done in real real-time but I don’t know how they pulled it off.


There is an obvious cut at 2:15. All they had to do was time the length of that last bit, and rehearse it so that Burke could keep the right cadence, so it took 14 seconds. Actually, if you listen closely, he pauses between “you get” and “that”, so his cadence must have been a bit fast, so he paused, so he said “that” as the clock hit zero.


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Yes exactly what I was thinking. Some kind of editing gimmick

Given the script, I took it as an intentional dramatic pause. But to your point, a pause that could vary in length slightly as needed. There are actually two other pauses before the final one. All of those can serve to fine tune the tempo of the delivery.

I’m going to argue that timing this isn’t that big a deal. Stage actors have to get timing right all the time, often in coordination with off-stage personnel (lighting, special effects). It’s just a matter of rehearsal. Lots of rehearsal. I’m quite sure Burke and his cameraman rehearsed this multiple times, with someone filling in for the countdown clock. You can see him glancing down to hit his mark as he walks into frame. And the pauses in his reading are an example of good writing for the situation. A dramatic pause is perfect here, as it gives just a little flexibility in the reading while continuing to sound right - and even improving the overall effect of the shot.

The idea for the shot, though, is brilliant. And it certainly takes some skill to time the reading properly and get it right under the pressure of real time. Plus a little hat tip to the continuity folks who made sure he was still carrying the flask.

As to editing gimmicks - this was 1977. The bag of editing tricks was much smaller then. Green screen was available, but green screen at that time wasn’t nearly as good as it is today and this certainly doesn’t look like green screen or any other common effects (like masking) were used.



There was no optical trickery. There is a launch viewing area at the Cape that is open to the public, with a countdown clock.

As for Burke getting the timing right, that is what actors do. That is why they make the big bux.

This shot more clearly shows the body of water visible between where Burke was standing, and the pad.