Science from television drama

Wired has a story about the trend toward more television dramas with science content. Some may disagree that a show like CSI is especially science-related; notwithstanding the shots where a camera is being jammed up into a corpse orifice. But it seems obvious that the current crop of TV dramas uses science, like forensics, psychology, even math for goodness’ sake, in a way that would have been unimaginable in the days of Murder, She Wrote and Crazy Like A Fox.

Writer Hugh Hart attributes the trend to Michael Crichton:

Why is real science so hot on prime time? Some of the credit goes to the late Michael Crichton. Ever since he introduced clinically correct doctor-speak to the airwaves with medical drama ER, story lines on science-heavy television shows have been bumping up references to astrophysics, neurobiology, quantum mechanics and other topics ripped from the headlines of obscure scholarly publications.
The geek-friendly ER, which wraps its 15-year run in May, launched a spawn of pop culture/propellerhead crossovers that engage TV viewers' brainwaves even as they're being entertained by age-old soap-opera machinations. For an increasingly tech-savvy generation of couch potatoes, factually flimsy plot details simply don't pass muster.

Well, I don’t remember anything obvious pre-ER that presaged the trend. Definitely not Diagnosis: Murder territory. Maybe initially this was just the small-screen translation of Crichton’s science fiction movie successes.

Now some of the new science-y shows are just excuses for nerd humor – witness, Big Bang Theory. And many of these shows, including some of my favorites, like House and Numb3rs, are ultimately driven by characters who are brilliant scientists themselves but have trouble relating to a group of more ordinary mortals. So there’s the old unapproachable genius stereotype, where the genius has become the central character.

Unless you’re Lady Heather.

But hey, at least the scientist has become the central character of these shows. It used to be that the scientist was some nebbishy middle-aged dude rescued by the hunky thirty-year-old hero. Now we haven’t quite reached Doc Savage territory, but we’re definitely moving up.