Paula S. Apsell got her start in broadcasting at WGBH Boston, where she was hired fresh out of Brandeis University to type the public broadcaster's daily television program logs-a job that Apsell notes is now, mercifully, automated. Within a year, she found her way to WGBH Radio, where she developed the award-winning children's drama series, "The Spider's Web," and later became a radio news producer. In 1975, she joined WGBH's NOVA, a science documentary series that has set the standard for science programming on television, producing documentaries on subjects as varied as artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and aviation safety. Her NOVA "Death of a Disease" was the first long-form documentary on the worldwide eradication of smallpox.
After leaving NOVA in 1981, Apsell went to WCVB, the ABC affiliate in Boston, known for quality content, as senior producer for medical programming, working with Dr. Timothy Johnson. During that time, she produced "Someone I Once Knew," an award-winning documentary that essentially broke the story on Alzheimer's disease, showing that dementia is a pathology, not an inevitable product of old age. Apsell then spent a year at MIT as a Knight Science Journalism Fellow. In 1985, she was asked to take over the reins at NOVA, where she is now Senior Executive Producer and Director of the WGBH Science Unit. As well as overseeing the production of NOVA documentaries and miniseries for television, she has directed the series' diversification into other media-most notably online, where NOVA is the most-visited site on PBS.org. NOVA can also be found in classrooms nationwide, where it is the most widely used video resource among high school science teachers.
In January 2005, Apsell introduced a NOVA spinoff in NOVA scienceNOW, a critically acclaimed science newsmagazine hosted formerly by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson and now by New York Times technology columnist David Pogue. Other recent signature NOVA and Science Unit productions include "The Elegant Universe," "Origins," "Einstein's Big Idea," "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial," "Making Stuff," and the large-format feature "Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure."
Today, NOVA is the most popular science series on American television and online. Under Apsell's leadership, NOVA has won every major broadcasting award, some many times over, including the Emmy, the Peabody, the AAAS Science Journalism Award, and the Gold Baton duPont-Columbia, as well as an Academy Award® nomination for "Special Effects." In 1998, the National Science Board of the National Science Foundation awarded NOVA its first-ever Public Service Award.
Apsell has been recognized with numerous individual awards for her work, including the Bradford Washburn Award from the Museum of Science, Boston; the Carl Sagan Award given by the Council of Scientific Society Presidents; the American Institute of Physics Andrew Gemant Award; the Planetary Society's Cosmos Award; the International Documentary Association's Pioneer Award; the National Space Club of Huntsville Media Award; and the New York Hall of Science Distinguished Service Award for Public Understanding of Science. She has served on the board of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, the Brandeis University Sciences Advisory Committee, and the International Documentary Association. Apsell holds honorary doctorates from Southern Methodist University and Dickinson College.
She lives in Newton, Massachusetts with her husband Sheldon, an inventor. The Apsells have two grown daughters, one a physician, the other a television producer.