PBS is teaming up with the BBC to produce a brand new series called First Contact. Described as a hybrid "drama/documentary," the series will feature real-life interviews with some of the world's most foremost scientists and interpolate it with a dramatization of a near-future Earth where extraterrestrial life has been detected and the world's reaction to the revelation. The resulting series is being compared to the famous War of the Worlds radio show, in which the faux news reports were realistic enough to convince listened tuning in late that an actual invasion was underway.
Despite bearing a title close to the name as the famous 1990s era Jodie Foster film, Contact, about Earth's possible discovery of extraterrestrial life, this series will not connect back to the big screen feature film, nor should it be confused with it. That being said, the plan is for the series to feature such scientists as Dr. Jill Tartar, the scientific pioneer in space exploration and extraterrestrial life whose research and story was the inspiration for Foster's character in the film.
But unlike the film, this is not a wholly fictionalized story. Instead, this project is being spearheaded by BBC Studios Science Unit, using as much real-life data as possible to create a fictionalized narrative that will hopefully be as true as possible to the current science and space exploration as it can. No cast has been announced as of yet.
Leading scientists now believe there is a genuine possibility we will shortly detect extraterrestrial life. The show will profile the latest in cutting-edge technology while featuring contributions from the likes of Dr. Jill Tartar, a pioneer who was the inspiration for Jodie Foster's character in Contact, along with showcasing the James Webb space telescope.
First Contact is the second BBC Studios Science Unit project done in conjunction with PBS. The first one, The Planets, aired as a five-part NOVA series back in 2019. The executive producer, Andrew Cohen, is also the man behind the BAFTA-nominated 8 Days: To The Moon and Back, which recreate the 1969 moon landings using innovative technology. That special also was a collaboration between BBC and PBS. It aired on both channels as part of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. But viewers should note, Cohen is also known for his heavily criticized pandemic dramatization from 2006. At the time, the fictionalized drama was accused of scaremongering.
It remains to be seen how the public will receive this new hybrid series. With the show technically a science fiction story, it may be sneered at the same way Discovery's Dinosaurs series have been. But the marketing comparisons to the famous War of the Worlds suggest the series is hoping to be seen as more highbrow. Perhaps the style and tone of the show will manage to overcome the fantasy elements involved.
No premiere date is set for First Contact either on the BBC or on PBS. However, fans probably shouldn't expect it to arrive until the 2022-2023 TV season at the earliest.