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S33 Ep1

Decoding Watson

Premiere: 1/2/2019 | 00:02:54 |

Meet James Watson, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist behind the double helix as he confronts his complex legacy. With unprecedented access to Watson and his family, "American Masters: Decoding Watson" explores his life, achievements, controversies and contradictions.

About the Episode

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. Directed and produced by Mark Mannucci.

Decoding Watson contains 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.


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.

About American Masters
Launched in 1986 on PBS, American Masters has earned 28 Emmy Awards — including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 14 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards, and many other honors. To further explore the lives and works of masters past and present, American Masters offers streaming video of select films, outtakes, filmmaker interviews, the podcast American Masters: Creative Spark, educational resources, digital original series and more. The series is a production of The WNET Group.

American Masters is available for streaming concurrent with broadcast on all station-branded PBS platforms, including and the PBS Video App, available on iOS, Android, Roku streaming devices, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast and VIZIO. PBS station members can view many series, documentaries and specials via PBS Passport. For more information about PBS Passport, visit the PBS Passport FAQ website.

About The WNET Group
The WNET Group creates inspiring media content and meaningful experiences for diverse audiences nationwide. It is the community-supported home of New York’s THIRTEEN – America’s flagship PBS station – WLIW21, THIRTEEN PBSKids, WLIW World and Create; NJ PBS, New Jersey’s statewide public television network; Long Island’s only NPR station WLIW-FM; ALL ARTS, the arts and culture media provider; and newsroom NJ Spotlight News. Through these channels and streaming platforms, The WNET Group brings arts, culture, education, news, documentary, entertainment and DIY programming to more than five million viewers each month. The WNET Group’s award-winning productions include signature PBS series Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend and Amanpour and Company and trusted local news programs MetroFocus and NJ Spotlight News with Briana Vannozzi. Inspiring curiosity and nurturing dreams, The WNET Group’s award-winning Kids’ Media and Education team produces the PBS KIDS series Cyberchase, interactive Mission US history games, and resources for families, teachers and caregivers. A leading nonprofit public media producer for nearly 60 years, The WNET Group presents and distributes content that fosters lifelong learning, including multiplatform initiatives addressing poverty, jobs, economic opportunity, social justice, understanding and the environment. Through Passport, station members can stream new and archival programming anytime, anywhere. The WNET Group represents the best in public media. Join us.


Major support for 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.

Support for American Masters is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AARP, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Rosalind P. Walter Foundation, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judith & Burton Resnick, Seton Melvin Charitable Trust, The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, Vital Projects Fund, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Ellen and James S. Marcus, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Koo and Patricia Yuen and public television viewers.


Pop, do you still consider yourself a scientist?


I'm the most accomplished person living on earth.

There are many adjectives one could use to describe Jim Watson.

I'm the top dog!

And humble is probably not the first to jump to your lips.

He discovered the secret of life when he was 25 years old.

I wanted to do something big.

Jim is a radical.

He'll deliberately untie his shoes and mess up his hair to give him what they were paying for *laughs* The book was controversial... just insulting... Francis Crick wouldn't talk to him for years after that book came out but it was a best-seller.

Roslyn Franklin had that famous photograph for eight months and never concluded it was the helix.

Had Jim Watson and Francis Crick stolen her work?

This is clearly unethical behavior in science.

He confesses to have a penchant for pretty girls.

Women made labs more interesting.

You knew when you heard him that you were at the start of a revolution in understanding.

He was yawning extremely loudly in the first row throughout my talk.

I'm just not afraid to say what I think.

Too slow.

Hubby pie Watson. You know, you said an absent-minded scientist. I imagine it's in his DNA.

She was just 18 and I was then 38 It was unseemly.

Now in this, I'll be labeled as a schizo, right? I mean, that would be truth in advertising, right?

Genetically Rufus was dealt a bad hand.

Well, he's really a lovable child, you know.

In our school, we had a Meeting of the Minds project... Yea.

Which is basically where people dress up as someone.. like my brother did Beethoven and I did you.

Given my desire to never to stay away from messy problems uh, I was bound to have ... myself sometimes and that's what I did.

It's genetic.

He's been put on a pedestal but is the responsibility that comes with being on that pedestal being met?

I don't know. I really don't know.

What's happened? You know, where's the Jim I knew?


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