Delayed But Not Denied

By Sean Carroll | March 3, 2010 8:45 am

First a programming notice: turns out I will not be on the Colbert Report tonight. Never fear — I was just bumped back to next week, Wednesday March 10 (11:30 p.m., 10:30 Central). Business as usual in TV land, no big deal. I was hoping that I was nudged in favor of a newly medaled Olympic hero, or at least minor royalty, but it looks like tonight’s guest will be Garry Wills. He’s one of my favorite writers, but still. Obviously some Catholic favoritism going on here.

Small scheduling glitches aside, the Colbert Report and the Daily Show remain two of the best places to hear interviews with interesting academics on TV, especially with scientists. In USA Today, Dan Vergano writes about this curious state of affairs. Neil deGrasse Tyson brings up a good point, that Johnny Carson’s version of the Tonight Show used to feature interviews with heavyweights such as Carl Sagan and Margaret Mead. These days, not many non-satirical network news shows bring on scientists (or anthropologists, or for that matter philosophers or English professors) as a regular event.

When Conan O’Brian took over the Tonight Show, the Science and Entertainment Exchange received a request from the producers to suggest some entertaining (and hopefully enlightening) scientists they could consider bringing on as guests. I don’t know if they ever followed up on that idea, and now I guess we’ll never know. Hopefully the success of Stewart and Colbert will convince the networks that Americans don’t necessarily turn the channel when faced with people who think carefully about the universe.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Personal, Science and the Media
  • Steve M.

    Thank you, Sean Carroll. I am now trying to imagine what it would be like if Derek Parfit went on the Jay Leno show.

    A special message to network executives: I will make a special effort to buy products advertised on any show that has Derek Parfit for a guest!

  • Lonely Flower

    I am really dissapointed, I was yearning to your interview, but anyway let’s wait to the next. Best wishes.

  • hackenkaus

    “Carroll says the Science Channel has devoted itself to wacky pyrotechnics-based shows rather than real science.” I agree, but tell that to Michio Kaku. Seriously, tell him, an intervention is needed.

  • locke

    Sean is maybe too young to actually remember Carson’s interviews with Sagan and Mead: they were actually entertaining and enlightening as opposed to Colbert and Stewart using scientists to further their own comedic ends. No comparison whatsoever IMNSHO. Like all good interviewers, Carson was actually INTERESTED in what his scientist guests had to say, not so much with Colbert and Stewart.

  • hunter

    Definitely looking forward to your interview Sean!!!

    True, hackenkaus, Michio Kaku got me hooked on science in the first place! Or was it “Beakman’s World” & “Bill Nye The Science Guy”? Someone should really revive awesome science shows for children!!! Keep it alive!

  • Martin

    @Locke: Colbert is actually interested, but he shows it in a comedic way. If you listen to his interviews, he does actually get the questions across that audiences would ask.

  • http://www.unquarked.com Dale Quark

    I really appreciate Colbert’s and Stewart’s effort to host scientists on their shows. I was so excited to see Neil de Grasse Tyson on the Daily Show! My favorite subject and show all in one place :-). Can’t wait till Wednesday… good luck!

  • http://theeternaluniverse.blogspot.com/ Joseph Smidt

    Thanks for the update. I would have been confused seeing Wills and not you.

  • ChicagoMolly

    Rachel Maddow had Neil de Grasse Tyson on her show the other night, mainly to promo his PBS special on Pluto. She even had a cute ‘Moment of Geek’ graphic for the segment, so maybe she’s thinking of doing science stories as a regular thing. Couldn’t hurt to do a little low-pressure lobbying; when you see a neat science story somewhere online (wink wink nudge nudge) send her an email and see what happens. Even though Rachel’s a Major Politics Freak I’ll bet she’d welcome the occasional break.

  • Dan Akerib

    Some may have seen this… Conan didn’t exactly have a scientist on, but quantum physics was discussed. I had the pleasure of being at the APS meeting a couple of years ago when the paper at this link was presented – the speaker apologized in advance for using up valuable time to show the clip, but promised it was well worth it! (and he was right…). Enjoy!
    http://hussle.harvard.edu/~gabrielse/gabrielse/trivia/JimCareyAndConanOBrien/JimCareyAndConanOBrien.html

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Neil deGrasse Tyson brings up a good point, that Johnny Carson’s version of the Tonight Show used to feature interviews with heavyweights such as Carl Sagan and Margaret Mead.

    Johnny Carson’s show also occasionally invited James Randi to do some debunking, such as his legendary expose of faith healer Peter Popoff. Those were the days.

  • ObsessiveMathsFreak

    I haven’t watched either of these shows since their website restricted viewing based on country/region. Be aware that appearing on the Colbert Report etc no longer means appearing before a worldwide audience.

  • eric gisse

    I have often found it odd that Stewart & Colbert seem to be, collectively, the best interviewers on television right now. I wonder if it is because of, or in spite of, the comedy platform.

  • Ian

    Never mind, in another universe you were on last week’s Colbert Report, and in another you are Garry Wills.

  • andyo

    This is great news, congrats Sean.

    Conan and Colbert are actually pretty scientifically literate, and it shows in their interviews with scientists. In contrast, other witty comics who do good interviews such as Letterman, Stewart, Kimmel or Maher, aren’t so much, and it also shows, though they manage to do good (sometimes just funny) interviews.

    Leno, well, Sarah Palin was good on Leno, people say.

  • andyo

    RE: Jim Carrey on Conan… As far as I remember, Carrey did a few “quantum” bits on Conan, one of which included Hawking!

    Unfortunately since Carrey has gone off the deep end with the vaccines and autism maufactroversy.

  • Igor Khavkine

    @ObsessiveMathsFreak#12: You might want to give the Comedy Central website another try. I can watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report just fine from across an ocean.

  • http://www.skullsinthestars.com gg

    “First a programming notice: turns out I will not be on the Colbert Report tonight.”

    You’ve no doubt been dropped for your recent post suggesting that the principle of energy conservation can be violated.

    Colbert is a man of strong conservative principles, after all…

  • Gary

    “Stewart” and “Colbert” in the same sentence as “Science” makes sense only if they’re nominees for the Darwin Award.

  • Pingback: Science and Technology Guests in Late Night, Week of March 8 « Pasco Phronesis()

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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