Italian entertainment: Piero Angela, the most important edutainer Italy has ever had
- WTI Magazine #155 Sep 24, 2022
Last August 13th was not only the day on which Piero Angela passed away at the age of 93. That date will always be remembered as the end of an era, the one when the Italian television educated the Italians via its edutainment programs.
Piero Angela was not only a science journalist, a talented pianist, and a writer who sold millions of copies of his books. Although he has been successful in every activity he worked on, he was mainly the most important Italian television host of science programs. He cultivated and embodied the desire of a population who wanted to grow up culturally, scientifically, and socially.
Piero was the son of a doctor, Carlo Angela, who taught him the rationality of the world. In the early stage of his life, Piero did well in his studies but he wasn’t really applying that much. He was always so bored by the way of learning, that he couldn’t be less motivated, so he was always doing the minimum work required. That characteristic will always be central to understanding why he always tried to entertain with his tv programs while giving education.
He had been learning how to play the piano since he was very young with private lessons, and afterwards he focused mostly on jazz. Just after WWII, Piero was playing in lots of jazz clubs in Turin under the name of Peter Angela. After being noticed, Peter Angela formed a jazz trio and he played several times with very well-known names at that time.
The one between Piero Angela and RAI is a love story that started in 1951, when he collaborated on a program based on the history of Jazz. The following year he signed a full-time contract as a journalist, becoming a correspondent for Italian television in Paris, Brussels and the United States of America. He went back to Italy when Fabiano Fabiani, the director at the time of the National Television News at the time, decided to promote him as one of the two first news anchormen of Italian history in 1968.
But his eternal success will always be found in his scientific TV programs. In 1981 he gave birth to “Quark”, one of the most famous show of the history of RAI television, that is still today active in different forms. The program at the time was set for just 16 weeks, but its success made the directors renew the contract for more than 41 years!
The reason for this huge response from the Italian audience was his innovative way to communicate. He used interviews and cartoons and documentaries to explain the most difficult scientific topics, and then in studio explanations on what had been shown. He used this format to make these difficult science topics more familiar to the public.
With his courage and innovation, Piero Angela taught Italians about science, nature and anthropology, as well as cosmology, astronomy and even economy.
In a historical period in which science is questioned more than ever, Piero Angela will always be remembered as the star in the sky who oriented the Italians to give credit to preparation, competence, logic, rationalism and culture. Every news piece, every speech, every explanation was designed and structured to be understood, to really educate, rather than trace superiority towards the public.
Piero Angela taught us that the distance between scientists, scholars and researchers and the public at home could be reduced or overcome with elegance, respect, politeness and the beauty of music and art.
I personally watched an episode of one of his first “Quarks” to write this article and to capture what was special in his way of communication. I found two main aspects I consider relevant:
1)Piero Angela was never shouting or suddenly changing tone, allowing the people to really understand and not to be shocked by the information. His way of making television was never aggressive and always moderate, an essential characteristic to enter Italian houses for so many years and stimulate curiosity.
2) The episode was very old but it could have been perfectly used in 2022 television. Although it can be easier with a scientific program, I take the responsibility to say that none of the programs of the actual Italian landscape, even with 1000 channels, could be that current in 40 years.
When the program began, a “Quark” was the smallest particle ever studied. The last lesson Piero Angela taught us is not to stop on the superficial level of information, but always be curious, go beyond, and discover. So that we can all grow up with our critical thinking and not be relegated to our microcosm of certain uncertainty.