Original Title: “A Curious Mind: Nigel Latta on making popular TV without dumbing it down”
BY HAIMONA GRAY | THE SPINOFF | 25 AUGUST 2018
Television icon Nigel Latta returns to TV, and this time he’s focused on the one thing that governs us all: the brain. Haimona Grey talks to the man himself.
“Our belief has always been that people are interested in interesting things. Sometimes TV patronises the audience, it has a belief that people won’t stay if it’s real content – but they do.” – Nigel Latta.
The general school of thought across the business of entertainment is the broader the appeal of your show, the bigger the potential audience and the lower the risk of failure.
In the film industry, they call it a ‘four-quadrant movie’: one with broad enough appeal to catch the four major demographic ‘quadrants’ of the movie-going audience: male, female, and both over- and under-25s.
When failure could lose you your job, having as many ‘quadrants’ on your side as possible seems like a no-brainer. The only safer bet when your job is funding TV shows is having talent, in front and behind the camera, and a good concept.
This is where Nigel Latta and his production company, Ruckus Media, have separated themselves from their competition. They have brought together talent and good concepts – ones that also happen to have broad appeal – at a prodigious rate.
Since 2016, Ruckus has produced: two seasons of the Mind Over Money series; the lauded feature length documentary on the health journey of Stan Walker; What’s Next, Latta and John Campbell’s co-hosted series; and his latest, The Curious Mind.
The Curious Mind introduces a new co-host for Latta: BabyX, the literal brainchild of Academy Award-winning artificial intelligence engineer, Professor Mark Sagar.
I asked Latta what an animated baby has to do with neuroscience, and how Sagar came to be involved.
“Several years ago I was at a science conference in Auckland where Mark Sagar was presenting BabyX. First thought was ‘wow that’s a great animation, it looks exactly like a baby!’, but it was when he kept turning to the baby on the screen to soothe BabyX, I realised it wasn’t an animation, it was a virtual human reacting to Mark and getting upset when he ignores them.
“I have always been interested in [making a] neuroscience show, but it seemed like BabyX was a really good vehicle to show people what is happening inside a brain. So afterwards I went up to Mark to pick his brain, he explained to me that he had always seen BabyX as a learning tool to help teach neuroscience.
“With The Curious Mind, when we sat down to try and develop a show about the brain we realised there would be much we couldn’t cover. So we tried to look at the really big things which are central to everyone’s lives: how we are wired to connect with other people, how we learn and remember.”
Nigel Latta and Baby X.