Look No Further Than Cable Television to Get Your Fix of Science & Entertainment

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Back in May, the New York Times touted the number of new shows with out-of-this-world themes slated to be on the broadcast networks’ Fall schedules. The new Fall season has now arrived, and it is probably safe to conclude that among the shows, only one – Terra Nova – provides at least an opportunity for science to get caught up in entertainment. The other shows featured in the New York Times piece – Grimm, Once Upon a Time, The Secret Circle, and A Gifted Man – have fantasy elements, but no intersection with science, it seems.

So, The Exchange decided to check out what is new this season on networks other than ABC, CBS, CW, Fox, and NBC, using The Futon Critic’s comprehensive listing.

First stop, the National Geographic Channel (NGC), a network that really does seem to be out to prove that science and entertainment do mix – and mix well. Several new NGC series have intriguing titles, beginning with Rocket City Rednecks, a show set in Huntsville, Alabama, home of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. It features a real rocket scientist, Travis Taylor, who works for the Space and Missile Defense Command and who is also the author of several science-fiction novels. He’s gathered a group of buddies, including family and friends, all of whom work in the space industry. They aim to entertain by “solving Big Science problems with backwoods ingenuity,” according to the NGC website. Each episode will probably feature an explosion or two. Pardon the bad pun, but what could be more fun than rocket scientists having a blast?

Another new NGC show is Mad Scientists. According to the NGC website, the show features “amateur inventors, weekend scientists and eccentric engineers.” What may set this show apart from others like it, however, is that not only does the audience get a close-up look at newly invented, unusual gadgets, but their creators are challenged to make their pet projects even better, so viewers will get to see science in action.

Video from How Hard Can It Be? has been up on the NGC website for a while. An episode of this new series was inspired by the Pixar movie Up. See how many helium balloons it takes to fly a house. Expect to see science, math, and a large dose of creativity put to use as experiments are conducted to find the answer to unusual questions Brain Games is another show, which uses a variety of tricks to demonstrate how the brain actually works. It could be quite entertaining.

Now, on to The Travel Channel. Frankenstein may be everyone’s idea of the ideal monster, and Big Foot may be the product of a vivid imagination, but someone’s got to make the creatures that populate our favorite amusement parks, haunted houses, and other entertainment venues. In a new miniseries, The Travel Channel pays a visit to those who create these big guys to see how they are brought to life. The name of this show – Making Monsters – actually says it all.

Finally, the Discovery Channel promises to give us a really fun show from series vets Penn & Teller. In Penn & Teller Tell a Lie, six to seven stories will be presented each week. Each involves spectacular visual stunts – and all of them will prove to be true – except for one. It will be up to the audience to discover and uncover the lie among the true tales. The show will include interactive elements available through the Discovery Channel website and the network’s apps.

Okay, we are not quite done. Don Draper, the meth mavens, and the zombies of AMC are slated to get some company next year. Kevin Smith is producing a show called Secret Stash, which will be an unscripted series set in a comic book store. Now, a lot of scientists get their fascination with science through their love of comic books, so there is probably an opportunity for some serious mixing of science and entertainment in Secret Stash. But we will have to wait for the new year to find out for sure.

Have you seen any of these new shows? If so, are they any good? Do they make science seem exciting and engaging? Let us know what you think of them.  

The statements and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the event participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for this event or of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.