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Television & Film

Smithsonian Channel Comes to Life

By Adell Crowe

SOC Smithsonian Channel Logo

A lot of broadcasting companies approached the Smithsonian over the years about making programming that would take its treasures from the museums to the people. But Showtime? 

"Showtime is all about entertainment and we’re all about credibility and veracity," said David Royle, Executive Vice President of the Smithsonian Channel. "The best kids come from mixed DNA and when our two cultures got together, it created a very stimulating environment." And a successful environment, too: the Smithsonian Channel won four gold medals at the New York Film Festival last year and is the youngest channel to ever earn an Emmy.

Royle's presentation was one of a six this semseter  hosted by professor Chris Palmer, head of AU’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking. The series is focused on giving the school’s aspiring filmmakers the opportunity to learn from important professionals in their field.

"Having people of the caliber and experience of David Royle coming to SOC to meet and spend time with students is invaluable," Palmer said.  

When Showtime proposed to give Smithsonian its own cable channel to fill 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Royle said that it was immediately important to clearly define what the programming would and wouldn’t be. 

"We weren’t going to be 'museum TV' but we wanted to use it as a launching pad to tell stories," he said. "The key is good storytelling. It’s not enough to have good pictures.

Royle said all programming his team works on fits into the following categories: air and space; history and mystery; natural wonders; pop culture; and children’s programming. He said the most stunning thing he has learned about historical objects and events is "the number of untold stories still out there." For example, for a program on the explosion of the Hindenburg in New Jersey 70 years ago filmmakers found a surviving cabin boy who had never told his story publicly. 

As for taking idea pitches from filmmakers, Royle told the students he welcomes them. “You never know where a good idea will come from.”