The PBS science showdown

2 minute read

I like my science-show narrators disembodied. I especially like it if they sound like Liev Schreiber. Alec Baldwin, I don't mind, although I always feel like next he's going to tell me about the caterpillar drive.

So all three of the new pilots that PBS aired this month as candidates for the "new" science show basically turned me off. Two of them -- the Wired and Science Investigators shows -- are definitely tuned for a younger, hipper demographic. At least, a younger hipper demographic that wants to see young pseudoreporters wandering clumsily through labs, ponds, and other exotic locales. I'm not convinced there's any space between "young and hip" and "dorky" in the science-show universe.

The two of them beat 22nd Century pretty easily. Get this description from Scientific American's Nikhil Swaminathan:

Robinson co-hosts this show with a reincarnation of Aldous Huxley--I kid you not; though it's an actor playing the role, obviously--who's job it is "to remind us that all progress is not a step forward," and Orlanda Bell, an astral projection (half human, half machine), who presumably the show's producers have created to spread what will likely turn out to be half truths from the future. ("Almost all deadly diseases have been eradicated," being one of the first phrases out of her mouth.) Basically, it's like the dad from Punky Brewster bickering with a hologram that could have looked like anyone--so, obviously they chose Designing Women's Annie Potts--over whether we're all going to grow up to be cyborgs.

Yes it is that bad. It's like over-the-top Crossing Jordan bad. Maybe they should have had a seance and brought back Edgar Cayce instead.

I will say that Science Investigators probably had the best chance for my attention, since they went to 454 Life Sciences to talk about Neandertal DNA. But they definitely lost it when their discussion ran to how easy it would be to clone a Neandertal, if only it weren't so ethically wrong. As if!

Anyway, if you want to see more about the shows, Nikhil Swaminathan of Scientific American has been blogging them (that link goes to the last installment, which links to the other two). I basically have the same opinion, that Wired had the most potential of the bunch.

But if it were me, I would just kill this and ScienceNOW! and triple the amount of Nova. Or make more Scientific American Frontiers -- somehow that show makes the magazine format with short stories work in a way that these clunkers didn't manage. What's more, Alan Alda manages to be hip without being dorky.