First broadcast in April 1957, The Sky at Night featured legendary British stargazer Sir Patrick Moore until his death last year. Now the long-running show's future is in doubt.
|Update: Publicists at the British Broadcasting Company announced on October 29th that The Sky at Night would be broadcast during 2014. However, next February the monthly 30-minute episodes will move from the flagship channel BBC One, on which they aired for 54 years, to the digital-only channel BBC Four. Nearly 54,000 supporters signed an online petition urging the BBC to keep the program going.|
Although a keen, meticulous observer in his youth and a prolific author thereafter, Moore was best known as the host of a monthly BBC broadcast called The Sky at Night, which first aired on April 24, 1957. Moore presented a total of 721 episodes and missed only one taping (in July 2004, due to food poisoning). No other show has been broadcast for so long with the same host in television history.
The series proved so enduring that in 2005 the network started a monthly magazine called BBC Sky at Night, though in 2011 the publication was sold to Immediate Media.
With his health failing, Moore cultivated astronomers Chris Lintott (Oxford University) and Lucie Green (Mullard Space Science Laboratory) to carry on. And they have, continuing to record shows on a wide variety of topics. The next episode will feature a "Moore Moon Marathon" to debut on October 18th, the night of a penumbral lunar eclipse that's visible from Europe.
But news broke this week, in The Guardian and The Telegraph, that the show's days might be numbered. According to a BBC spokesman, "The Sky At Night is on air until the end of the year. Plans for subsequent series are being discussed."
Devotees of the show were shocked and outraged, as were its hosts. On Wednesday, Lintott tweeted, "Total viewing figures for a typical Sky at Night, across BBC1, BBC2 and BBC4: roughly a million. Just saying."
Students at the UK's Open University started a change.org petition to save the program. The appeal garnered 30,000 supporters in just its first four days. As signatory David Chadwick noted, "Part of the BBC's remit [mission statement] is to educate. The Sky at Night is a respected institution that has educated for decades. To even consider axing it is a disgrace."
Meanwhile, Moore had always dreamed of turning his longtime home — a thatched cottage known as Farthings — into an educational center devoted to astronomy. Since Moore's death, his close friend Brian May has been working to make that dream a reality. Known worldwide as the guitarist for Queen (and less so for his PhD in astronomy), May had the financial means to give it a go. Despite rumors to the contrary, no decisions have been made as yet.