Talkin' Science and Science Fiction With Eureka's Jaime Paglia

By Eric Wolff | July 31, 2009 12:02 pm

SyFyThe geniuses of Eureka are inspired by a pretty good source: the geniuses of Cambridge, Mass.

Before his TV writing career took off, Jaime Paglia, co-creator of SyFy’s number-one-rated show,  had a part-time gig as a program director of a science and technology public radio show called Cambridge Forum.

“It was this rare opportunity to be in Cambridge, Massachusetts where literally you have some of the greatest minds in science and technology,” Paglia told me in an interview recently. “Tim Berners-Lee, who literally invented the Internet, and Rodney Brooks, head of MIT robotics lab, the guy who made Sojourner, and who invented the Roomba in his spare time. Those guys, they see the world differently. There’s a unique way their brains work that allows them to be as creative as they are.”

These Cambridge geniuses eventually found their way into the show, if not as Nathan Stark or Douglas Fargo (Did you know he had a first name? I had to look it up), then at least as Walter Perkins or Carl Carlson. And Paglia also has another inspiration for scientific heroes: Dr. Donald Paglia, UCLA medical professor emeritus and Jaime’s dad.

The elder Paglia was very nearly the medical officer inside Biosphere 2, but decided he’d rather stick around and watch his son grow up some. Instead, Dr. Paglia served as the medical officer on the outside, and he even brought his family down to watch it get sealed for its two-year mission of self-sustainability. The idea of Biosphere 2 led directly to an episode of Eureka (“What About Bob?“) featuring a missing person inside a Biosphere-like place.

So, sometimes the science leads directly to a show, but Paglia says that story and science have about equal weight in driving the arc of a given episode.  Paglia and his team spend a lot of time with science magazines, blogs, and Web sites, and they track all their science and sci-fi ideas on the most important of all scientific tools: a white board.

“In Season One, we put all of our characters on one board, with episodes across the top, and for each one we wrote what we want to have happen to these characters,” Paglia said. “Meanwhile, we had a separate board with all the sci-fi ideas. We made a concerted effort, without being too on the nose, to tie what’s happening with the science to what’s happening to the characters.”

The heroes of Eureka strike a stark contrast with the scientific heroes on other shows, most especially those on Big Bang Theory. In that show, the scientists are depicted as so nerdy and unable to cope socially that one of the leads is assumed to have Asperger’s Syndrome by advocacy groups. Eureka‘s main character may be everyman Sheriff Jack Carter, but the scientific heroes are both brilliant and reasonably well adjusted to social norms. For Paglia, that was a deliberate choice.

“It’s an attractive quality to be smart, and inventive,” Paglia said. “It’s not about biceps and perfect teeth. We wanted to turn things upside down in this town.”

But he still enjoys the contrast between the jock Carter and Eureka‘s smarty-pants.

“Carter is very smart in a street-smart way; he has the ability to see the forest for the trees” he said. “While the scientists are so caught up in what they’re doing, they can’t see that, which was definitely a quality of some of the guys I was interviewing for Cambridge Forum. You could see [yourself saying], ‘I’ll bet you never know where your car keys are, you can’t be bothered by that, because you’re too busy creating new math.'”

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Utter Nerd

Comments (19)

  1. Eureka is one the best series on the SciFi – OOOPS SyFi channel. From the first pilot to now. Hope it doesn’t lose momentum like some series. Great article. Thanks for sharing the information.

    Check out my first and recently released novel, Long Journey to Rneadal. This exciting story is a romantic action adventure in space.

  2. walt

    It’s a great show but it ain’t science.
    Take the last show. Fargo got a little dab on his palm and was infected with gamma rays which spread throughout his skin mutating the cells so they turned green? And a monster that ate radiation and chased people because we glow a little? More dramatic than a blob that chased radon in the basement, I guess…
    The average Eureka episode is about as scientific as a Warner Brothers cartoon but I still love it.

  3. Mike

    That “It’s not easy being green” episode was definitely the weakest of the season.

  4. Ned Ludd

    Has Eureka moved filming from BC to LA? Instead of the foggy mountain lakes, lush ferns, and towering evergreens of Season 1 & 2; Season 3 looks like it’s filmed in a drier place with sprawling farms often the backdrop of outdoor shots instead of mountain forests with moss-covered trees and tree trunks sometimes too large to wrap your arms around. Also, the last shot of “Welcome Back, Carter” in Season 3 pans up and barely shows the horizon, and what it shows look to me like distant skyscrapers or office buildings instead of the mountain horizon from before.

    Of course, there are still generic fill-in shots that look like they are from the early seasons – for example, “Welcome Back, Carter” leads in with a generic shot of the town with mountains in the background. But, in the Season 3 episodes I’ve watched, newly shot outdoor scenes look different than the ones from Season 1 & 2.

  5. Walt, I hear you on the way they bend science, but I appreciate the way they actually try to bring in new ideas and concepts. There’s more science on Eureka then on, say, The Real Housewives of New Jersey.

    Ned, that’s an interesting point. I looked up the locations on IMDB, and they’re all BC. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0796264/locations But I sent an email to a SyFy PR person, I’ll post back here when she gets back to me.

  6. Hey Ned – Just heard back from the friendly folks at Eureka. The show is shot entirely in Vancouver.

  7. Ned Ludd

    Eric, thanks for clearing that up. From looking at IMDb, season 1 exteriors were mostly shot in Chilliwack, BC, a town of 80,000 people located about 60 miles east of Vancouver. From the pictures at Panoramio.com, it looks like a beautiful area. I’d guess many of season 2’s outdoor shots were also filmed in & around Chilliwack, and then they moved to Vancouver for season 3. I didn’t see individual episodes’ locations listed at IMDb after season 1, so just a hunch on my part.

  8. greg wilson

    It would be nice to see a book like “The Physics of Star Trek” all about Eureka. I agree with all the posts I’ve read here: great show, sometimes a bit weak on the science, but always reaching, which is what I’m guessing Paglia is going for.
    My son, who’s also studying physics (I’m a physics instructor), turned me on to this and I love it.

  9. joanna

    there is an onlist of film locations, several of which were on Vancouver Island, various towns, including Victoria, Duncan, and Nanaimo. We used to live on Van. Island and I must say that some of the scenery does look like it.

  10. Hunty

    Take the last show. Fargo got a little dab on his palm and was infected with gamma rays which spread throughout his skin mutating the cells so they turned green? And a monster that ate radiation and chased people because we glow a little? More dramatic than a blob that chased radon in the basement, I guess… download prince of persia: the sands of time | download sex and the city 2 | download get him to the greek

  11. This show is one of it’s kind, where Cambridge geniuses come together. It’s rare, we hear some thing, what Paglia said “It’s an attractive quality to be smart, and inventive”. And he proved it. It’s a refreshing attractiveness – smart and inventive.

  12. i m agrrrreeeddd withb it

  13. deadliner

    Thank you for your blog. I agree with other posts.

  14. Allan

    Fargo got a little dab on his palm and was infected with gamma rays which spread throughout his skin mutating the cells so they turned green? And a monster that ate radiation and chased people because we glow a little? More dramatic than a blob that chased radon in the basement, I guess…
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  15. cambredge geniuses thought is useful and it most valable.We used to live on Van. Island and I must say that some of the scenery does look like it.

  16. I agree that this site is better than other, especially when it comes to quality. I have been using this site for the last 3 years it never dissapointed me. Does anybody know when the new version is coming out?

  17. This is an informative site. I found this site is better than other sites.

  18. i think this is the better one than other. this provides better information than the other sites. better to make provide more information.

  19. I absolutely love Eureka and think it is one of the best SyFy shows. I’m really looking forward to season 5.

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