Mysteries of the Pyramids’ Dara Ó Briain

Channel 5’s Mysteries of the Pyramids with Dara Ó Briain premiered last month in the U.K., delving into the most intriguing questions surrounding one of the world’s wonders. The Wildflame Productions-produced two-parter, for which Silverlining Rights is the exclusive worldwide distribution partner, is hosted by the eponymous Irish comedian and television presenter, who brings his wit, levity and genuine curiosity to the adventure. Ó Briain talks with TV Real Weekly about the series, what makes it stand out from the rest in a crowded genre and the keys to creating educational content that is genuinely entertaining.

TV REAL: How did Mysteries of the Pyramids come about?
Ó BRIAIN: It was an offer out of the blue! I spend the huge majority of my time touring comedy shows but have kept a lively side hustle hosting science documentaries, going all the way back to Stargazing Live, which I hosted with professor Brian Cox for about a decade on the BBC. When you spend most of your time talking in a controlled stream of nonsense, it’s lovely to meet some facts now and again, and I suppose I’ve also learned how to stand next to far more educated people than me and pepper them with questions like the audience would want to. This was the chance to do that about a very different subject.

TV REAL: How did you become attached to helm the series, and what was the experience like for you?
Ó BRIAIN: I was coming up to the end of a tour that had been running for a couple of years, and when Wildflame Productions contacted me, it turned out they wanted to film just after my final dates. I took it as a tremendously happy coincidence that I was free. When I’m between tours, I’m open to doing anything new and different; a popular history show about the pyramids really sparked my curiosity. After all, when would I get this amount of access to some of the world’s greatest buildings, with an expert in tow to explain it all? Plus, they promised I would get to properly scrabble around in the sand, which we did. We even got lost in one of the tunnel systems.

TV REAL: Pyramids are certainly endlessly fascinating. What sets Mysteries of the Pyramids apart in the factual content space?
Ó BRIAIN: The access and the experience make it most exciting. One of the keys to shows like these is to do what every audience member would do if given the chance. Who wouldn’t like to put on an explorer’s khaki trousers and start crawling into tunnels? But after that, you tune into the amazing human story of the construction and the centuries-long battle between the pyramid builders and the tomb raiders, which ultimately led to the pyramids being abandoned. It’s an incredible story.

TV REAL: Why does this series have global appeal?
Ó BRIAIN: The pyramids are one of the great human stories. They are globally iconic and remain awe-inspiring. A town of 30,000 people worked for 20 years to construct a building which is still the heaviest in the world today. To have built such incredible monuments, and yet they were all raided…. It’s like a magnificent heist movie. Even when you enter the Great Pyramid of Giza today, you go in through the Robbers’ Tunnel and then see Tutankhamun’s treasure and realize all that was lost. It’s just remarkable and will always amaze. I was very lucky to see all this.

TV REAL: How does Mysteries of the Pyramids fit into the remit of other projects you’ve led or been involved with?
Ó BRIAIN: It’s certainly a new departure for me since I’m usually trying to tell people about the sun, moon and stars. And this is definitely a human story, no matter what some will tell you. Regardless, the pyramids are a source of wonder and a spark for curiosity, so the same rules apply: Show your excitement, and then shut up and let the expert explain what it means.

TV REAL: With those rules in mind, what’s the key to creating successful content in the factual space, balancing entertainment with education and creativity?
Ó BRIAIN: Curiosity is key. If I can ask questions I want to know the answers to, that’s not a bad instinct to follow. Being funny can follow or can bookend the journey, but it’s nice now and again just to let smart people tell you what they know. My enthusiasm is genuine; these shows have brought me to pyramids, nuclear reactors and eclipses. All my pointing and grinning is a very honest reaction to my great fortune in seeing amazing things. Hopefully, that is infectious.