If you spend a lot of time in the MGM Grand in Vegas (and who doesn’t?), you will have walked by Television City. It’s a fun place to get some free entertainment if the craps tables have been unkind (or if you had a great meal at Joel Robuchon), but it’s serious business for CBS/Viacom: this is where they show clips and pilots of prospective shows to average Americans, to gauge whether they should be picked up for seasons to come. Apparently it’s easier to find average Americans in Vegas than over here in LA.
So here’s your chance to chime in on our contest to choose a science-themed TV show. Recall that the idea behind the elevator pitch contest was that you had bumped into CBS bigwig Les Moonves, and taken the opportunity to quickly pitch a TV idea that made use of science in some way. While you might have thought that Mr. Moonves was just humoring you, in fact he took some of the ideas very seriously, and ultimately picked six of them to make pilots of each. Sadly, we don’t have clips from the actual pilots; something about intellectual property rights. But here are the original descriptions of the six finalists; note that CBS has tentatively assigned names to each show.
Below the fold there is a poll, where you can vote on which show you like the best! Voting will be open for the next week. For the winner, a T-shirt, and who knows? Some people in high places read this blog.
- New Horizons (Jason Dick)
Takes place about a century from now. Humanity has discovered planets around other stars harbor life. We send out a generation ship, where multiple generations of intrepid explorers will be born and die before it reaches its destination. This show follows their journey, where they are faced with mechanical failure, collisions with small dust grains that cause lots of damage, and people who crack under the stress of their situation. Mostly it’d be about a human drama of extremely driven people who are in a difficult situation, and whose children are forced to carry the torch of their parents.
- Three Geeks in Boston (Naveen)
Three guys share an apartment in Boston: a freelance writer training for an ultramarathon, a chemistry student who wants to work in a Michelin star restaurant, and a disillusioned theoretical physicist in grad school. The runner views himself as a lab rat and writes about his experiments with the latest training gadgets and techniques. The chemist hopes that molecular gastronomy will be his path to a dream job with Heston Blumenthal or Grant Achatz. The theoretician realizes how his math can be applied to topics ranging from tracking flu epidemics to studying the sociology of Facebook.
- The Parameters (astromcnaught)
An enormous laser experiment blows a hole in local space-time. Things start to behave strangely, and hilariously, the world over. Young Ruford with the assistance of a mysterious mechanics professor has to adjust the parameters of reality back to normal. Different parameter each week. E.g. speed of sound drops to 1 meter a minute. Something electromagnetical causes clothes to start becoming transparent. Gravity becomes stronger…the world starts spinning faster…the moon draws closer…air becomes thicker…ice sinks. The dog’s called Rhombus.
- The Scientific Inquisitor (Matt)
A lapsed cardinal with a rigorous scientific background is called back into service by the Pope. When the vatican is under pressure to bestow sainthood on a politically inconvenient deceased priest, they dispatch the show’s hero. Our cardinal has secret instructions to debunk the would-be saint’s requisite “miracles”, thereby denying sainthood. He does so with scientific acumen and great aplomb. Each week, he struggles with being used by an organization he doesn’t respect, as well as his own emotional desire to believe in something beyond the cold materialism he practices. Both cynical and hopeful, the show illuminates the boundary between evidence and faith, in a (perhaps Sisyphean) struggle to find a balance between the two.
- Friends with Experiments (Peggy)
Friends in a top university molecular biology lab. Three young men and three young women – a couple of postdocs, grad students, a Sigma sales rep and a departmental administrator – find love and laughs as they run gels, hang out in the departmental lounge, attend conferences, and interact with the other wacky lab denizens. Plenty of opportunity for sight gags, such as an unbalanced ultracentrifuge “walking” through a wall or the noob grad student accidentally setting her bench on fire. And lots of opportunities for romantic situations: all-night sample collecting in the cold room, working closely in the darkroom, or a mixup that puts our male and female postdoc in the same hotel room at the AAAS conference. And what holds them together is their love/hate relationship with their research.
- Apocalypse Tomorrow (Dr. Free-Ride)
The economy has tanked and modern infrastructure (utilities, highways, food supplies, schools) is decaying – “pre-apocalypse”. We focus on a couple who left science a decade ago, moving to a small town for a new start. Their kids keep stumbling into sciencey situations, drawing their parents into them. Their town has a distinct anti-science vibe — science and technology didn’t hold off the decay gripping the community, and (we find out) the town is still scarred by tragic events due to mad scientists. Despite themselves, our family uses scientific reasoning and keen observation to rebuild the community and their own lives.
Click to get to the poll and cast your vote…
Note the real lesson here: it’s not easy to come up with a show idea that’s interesting, dramatic, and can be pitched in 100 words or less! (HP’s The Uncertainty Principle had promise, but Mr. Moonves was not convinced that a season-long struggle for funding would maintain interest.) I was happy that we came up with so many good choices.