Full Episode
Decoding Watson

James Watson, the Man Behind the Double Helix, Confronts His Complex Legacy in American Masters: Decoding Watson

Directed and produced by Mark Mannucci

Thrust into the limelight for discovering the secret of life at age 25 with Francis Crick, influential Nobel Prize-winning scientist James Watson has thrived on making headlines ever since. His discovery of DNA’s structure, the double helix, revolutionized human understanding of how life works. He was a relentless and sometimes ruthless visionary who led the Human Genome project and turned Harvard University and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory into powerhouses of molecular biology. With unprecedented access to Watson, his wife Elizabeth and sons Rufus and Duncan over the course of a year, American Masters explores Watson’s evolution from socially awkward postdoc to notorious scientific genius to discredited nonagenarian, also interviewing his friends, his colleagues, scientists and historians. Controversial and unapologetic, Watson still thrives on competition and disruption. The film uncovers his signature achievements, complexities and contradictions, including his penchant for expressing unfiltered and objectionable points of view.

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American Masters: Decoding Watson is the first interview in which James Watson’s wife, Elizabeth, has spoken candidly and at length about their relationship and their son Rufus’ schizophrenia. The film is also the first time Rufus Watson has been interviewed for a film.

Film Interviewees

  • Sydney Brenner, Salk Institute for Biological Studies 2002 Nobel Laureate
  • Francis Collins, Director, National Institutes of Health
  • Nathaniel Comfort, Science Historian, Johns Hopkins University
  • Robert Cook-Deegan, Author of “The Gene Wars;” Professor, Arizona State University
  • Soraya De Chadarevian, Department of History, Institute for Society and Genetics, UCLA
  • Joseph Graves, Jr., Evolutionary Biologist & Author, North Carolina A&T State University
  • Nancy Hopkins, Molecular Biologist, MIT
  • Andrea Morris, Molecular Biologist; Administrator, Rockefeller University
  • Laura Otis, Professor of English, Emory University
  • Joan Steitz, Molecular Biologist, Yale University
  • Bruce Stillman, President & Cancer Researcher, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
  • Lloyd Trotman, Cancer Researcher, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
  • Duncan Watson, James Watson’s son
  • Elizabeth Watson, James Watson’s wife
  • James Watson
  • Rufus Watson, James Watson’s son
  • Carl Zimmer, Author & Columnist, The New York Times

Underwriters Print

Major support for American Masters: Decoding Watson is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional support is provided by The Anderson Family Fund and Gerry Ohrstrom. Production support is provided by Mannuccio Mannucci. Major support for American Masters is provided by AARP. Additional support is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Rosalind P. Walter, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Ellen and James S. Marcus, Judith and Burton Resnick, Vital Projects Fund, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, the Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, the André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Seton Melvin, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, and public television viewers.

Production credits Print

A production of ROOM 608 INC. and THIRTEEN Productions LLC’s American Masters for WNET. Directed and produced by Mark Mannucci. Hannah Meagher is co-producer. Alex Ricciardi is editor. Scott Sinkler is director of photography. For ROOM 608 INC., Jonathan Halperin is executive producer. For American Masters, Michael Kantor is executive producer.