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.
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. 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 served as Senior Executive Producer and Director of the WGBH Science Unit for 33 years, building NOVA into the most popular science series on American television and a highly respected science site online. During Apsell’s tenure, NOVA won every major broadcasting award, most many times over, including the Emmy; the Peabody; the AAAS Kavli Science Journalism award; the duPont-Columbia University Gold and Silver Batons; and an Academy Award nomination for Special Effects.
Apsell has been recognized with numerous individual awards for her work, including the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Emmy of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, the first science journalist to be so honored. She has served on the board of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History; the Brandeis University Sciences Advisory Committee; the International Documentary Association, and the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers. Apsell holds honorary doctorates from Southern Methodist University and Dickinson College and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.