We now know that Darlow Smithson Productions will be responsible for generating the TV and internet media broadcasts of the Mars One selection process. This news is official (press releases: Mars One | DSP; articles in the media press here and here), and supersedes preliminary reports from last month suggesting that Lionsgate would be attached to the project.
Darlow Smithson, which will be Mars One’s exclusive worldwide production partner, specializes in ‘factual production’, i.e., documentaries and reality TV. The company’s resumé includes several forays into programming focused on space exploration (Earth From Space, Neil Armstrong: First Man on the Moon, Finding Life Beyond Earth) and science and technology more generally (Hawking and the more populist Smash Lab). DSP’s parent company, Endemol, is the mammoth conglomerate responsible at some level for perpetrating long-running harbinger of the apocalypse Big Brother, prompting concern from multiple quarters regarding the tone of the planned production. As I wrote previously (prior to this announcement):
I’m not convinced that a population of high-strung physical beauties is likely to be enriched for the skills needed to ensure the success of the mission. There is a significant tension between what makes for good television and what would make for rigorous selection and training of literal astronauts planning to risk their literal lives. …
Reality TV has reimagined Lord of the Flies, explored the petty depravity of rats in a cage, and invited us time and again to jeer at the antics of moral imbeciles, but it has very rarely explored the quiet victories of humans at our best.
This concern was widespread (and, I daresay, reasonable) enough that Mars One included the following reassurance in an email announcement it sent directly to the candidates:
No Big Brother on Mars please
We feel it is important to report on humanity’s next giant leap in an inspiring way, sharing the story with the world. Bas Lansdorp, Co-founder & CEO of Mars One said, “Our team felt all along that we needed a partner whose strength lies in factual storytelling to an international audience. DSP will provide that to Mars One, while allowing our selection committee to maintain control of the astronaut selection process.”
The implication is that although Mars One and DSP will televise the selection process in an unscripted-drama format, they intend to create a production of a fundamentally different kind than we’ve ever seen before, consistent with the unprecedented nature of the project. For the record, I believe that their intentions are good and their statements genuine, and (based on my review of their past work and my vast experience in such matters) I think DSP sounds like a good choice. I’m looking forward to seeing the results, possibly as early as 2015–and hopefully including me.
(In any case, Endemol is a conglomerate of some 90 companies, so it would be more than a little unfair to declare Darlow Smithson guilty by association. From what I can tell, DSP is committed to making truly educational TV, and the reality offerings in their stable appear to have genuine integrity [e.g.]. At the end of the day, it’s hard not to like a house that has produced three separate shows about Stephen Hawking.)
Now for the six-billion-dollar question: What will this selection process entail? According to an earlier communication with the candidates, the next step in this process will be a round of interviews in which candidates will hope to demonstrate their “knowledge, intelligence, adaptability and personality” (and, presumably, telegenicity). Details of the interview process are scarce, but it is clear that at this stage we will be competing primarily against candidates from our own geographical regions. From there, it appears that the selection will become significantly more involved:
In order to qualify for the mission, each individual must demonstrate that they have acquired the intricate knowledge and skills as well as the high levels of psychological and physical performance needed for the most long distance voyage humankind has ever embarked upon. (source)
In a conventional interview, It is difficult to carefully evaluate deep knowledge, and probably impossible to meaningfully assess the ability to perform psychologically and physically. Therefore, my best guess is that early interviews of the usual sort (either live or mediated by Internet video chat) will eliminate some percentage of the remaining 706 aspirants, after which the remaining candidates will be invited to participate in activities that showcase their ability to rapidly learn complex bodies of knowledge, apply their knowledge practically under demanding conditions, and prove that they can tolerate physical and psychological stress.
I, for one, think that will make for some excellent viewing.