Great television science presenters and their shows
June 4, 2004 2:07 PM   Subscribe

Great television science presenters and their shows: Tim Hunkin "the Secret Life of Machines", Jacob Bronowski "The Ascent of Man", James Burke "Connections", David Attenborough "Trials of Life" "Blue Planet" etc., Marlin Perkins "Wild Kingdom", Don Herbert "Watch Mr. Wizard", Adam Hart-Davis "Science Shack" "Rough Science", Jack Horkheimer "Star Gazer". Does anyone else have any favorites, past or present?
posted by milovoo (30 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I admit to being influenced by the recent revival of a few of these shows on the Science Channel, and I've merely expanded on their theme and linked to relevant sites. By the way, this may well be the only place you will ever see Hawking and Steve-O used in the same category. Some I left off:

Stephen Hawking "a Brief History of Time"
(because despite being made media friendly as a movie, he is more of an author than a presenter)
David Heil "Newton's Apple"
(I actually don't remember this that well, and now it has more like a team of hosts)
Jim Fowler "the Tonight Show"
(sort of covered in the "Wild Kingdom" entry)
Chris Pontius and Steve-O - "Wild Boyz"
(umm, not enough real science?)
Karl Kruszelnicki "Great Moments in Science"
(Aussie only, I've never actually seen it)
Gunther von Hagen "the Autopsy"
(I'm just not sure about this one, but it's close)
Simon Schama "a History of Britain"
(great presenter and there is science in there - at least as much as "connections" - but it's technically a history documentary)
Alan Alda "Scientific American Frontiers"
(this probably counts, but I've simply never caught an episode)

I originally had a few more Tim Hunkin links, but it turns out that there was already an excellent Plep post on him.
posted by milovoo at 2:09 PM on June 4, 2004 [1 favorite]

James Burke -- the "leisure suit of wisdom"!
posted by gimonca at 2:11 PM on June 4, 2004 [1 favorite]

Bill Nye the Science Guy and Alton Brown.

posted by PinkStainlessTail at 2:13 PM on June 4, 2004

Billions and billions of Carl Sagans. (Though I really just adored Cosmos for the soundtrack.)
posted by Wulfgar! at 2:18 PM on June 4, 2004

How about Alton Brown on The Food Network? "Good Eats" has some pretty neat scientific information about cooking.

On Preview - Dangit Pink. But yes, I concur with your seriousness. Bill Nye is loads of fun too.
posted by John Smallberries at 2:18 PM on June 4, 2004

My two favorite TV science people growing up were:

- Dr. Magnus Pyke, who was a very witty and indescribably ancient man on a British show called Don't Ask Me (he was also, incidentally, the old man's voice on Thomas Dolby's She Blinded Me With Science);

- and Dr. Julius Sumner Miller, who had a regular and very long-running segment on one of my favorite kid's shows ever, the Hilarious House Of Frightenstein.
posted by chicobangs at 2:21 PM on June 4, 2004

Let me fix that "Good Eats" link..
posted by John Smallberries at 2:21 PM on June 4, 2004

Damn, a whole afternoon of thinking and I missed some of the biggies, although this Alton Brown guy is new to me.
I stopped watching after they cancelled Two Hot Tamales (back in the mists of time).
posted by milovoo at 2:26 PM on June 4, 2004

How could you not include Johnny Ball?!
posted by Mwongozi at 2:32 PM on June 4, 2004

David Bellamy.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:46 PM on June 4, 2004

I almost rear-ended Bill Nye once. I could tell it was him because his license plate said SCI GUY.
posted by kindall at 2:51 PM on June 4, 2004

Best ever: Carl Sagan.

Also good:
Alton Brown
Bill Nye
Alan Alda (unusual perhaps in that he's not a scientist himself, but his sheer enthusiasm for science and his sense of wonder come through so well)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:58 PM on June 4, 2004

Definitely Alton Brown for Good Eats.

I saw a marathon of reruns of the original Mr. Wizard show recently (I think it was the Sci-Fi Channel) a couple of weeks ago. They were awesome - I'd only seen the "Mr. Wizard's World" stuff on Nickelodeon in the early 80s, and had no idea he'd done the "original" show thirty years before.
posted by mrbill at 3:00 PM on June 4, 2004

Wild Kindom from the 70s has to be the most boooooooring wildlife show in existance.

Connections, now there's a show.
posted by Dillenger69 at 3:03 PM on June 4, 2004

John Acorn, the Nature Nut. And he plays a mean mandolin in addition to the science.
posted by tippiedog at 3:12 PM on June 4, 2004

Carl Sagan for me, hands down. I've had the Cosmos DVD collection for a couple of years and every now and then I'll pop it in and watch a few episodes to get a fix. Considering its 25-year-old science, and relatively low-budget production values, I'm amazed at the sense of wonder that the series is able to convey to this day. It's all Sagan. The man is truly a poet.
posted by BoatMeme at 3:12 PM on June 4, 2004

I confess to enjoying Beakman's World; it was like being taught science by Seinfeld's Kramer...

Of course, I fondly remember Julius Sumner Miller from the Mickey Mouse Club (but vaguely, since I was born three days before it debuted), and especially his animated counterpart from the Wonderful World of Color, the highly esteemed Professor Ludwig Von Drake.

One more enthusiastic vote for Alton Brown; "Good Eats" is the best combination of information and entertainment on TV today, and the best Food show ever (sorry Julia).

Don't forget the late great Dr. Frank Baxter, host of the Bell Laboratory Science films, never officially on TV, but the absolutely coolest classroom presentations of their time.

And how about Robert Llewellen who earned true geek cred by being both the wacky robot on Red Dwarf and the presenter on the original British version of Junkyard Wars/Scrapheap Challenge? JW/SC was definately one of those shows where (in the words of the Cosby) "you might just learn something before it's done".
posted by wendell at 3:53 PM on June 4, 2004

The David Attenborough "Life" series is probably the most well known:

13-part "Life on Earth" (1979) BBC -- first blockbuster natural history TV show ever.
12-part "The Living Planet" (1984) BBC -- followed on the success of the first series.
8-part "Trials of Life" BBC -- (1990)


I just recently watched "Ascent of Man" and "Blue Planet" both are incredible. AOM has real depth and perspective I think would be impossible to re-create today. Bronowski is god-like, he put so much into that film he died of a heart attack right after it was completed.

8-part "The Planets" (1999) BBC
10-part "The Life of Birds" (recent?) BBC
posted by stbalbach at 3:58 PM on June 4, 2004

I really liked Desmond Morris's The Human Animal from the BBC, shown in the US on Discovery or TLC. Great stuff.

But Cosmos is the golden remembrance, and I've got in on DVD too.
posted by zoogleplex at 4:06 PM on June 4, 2004

stbalbach, don't miss the new-ish "Life of Mammals" and the oldie but goodie "Life in the Freezer".

I've also been trying to find the series on evolution that was narrated by Henry Rollins - saw it once, but so far no luck finding it on video.
posted by milovoo at 4:26 PM on June 4, 2004

oh yeah forgot about freezer and mammals.. also "Private Life of Plants"

re: "Evolution" is that the PBS/NOVA one?
posted by stbalbach at 4:42 PM on June 4, 2004

I loved Tim Hunkin's "the Secret Life of Machines - and now I have an an email address to beg for dvds. (But I really needed it when I was teaching Intro TV Production - especially his show on lighting - great visual aids.)

Wouldn't it be great to have all these folk over for dinner? With Alton Brown's cooking and commentary?
posted by batgrlHG at 6:15 PM on June 4, 2004

Dave Brubeck's 'Take Five' will always be known to me as the theme from "The Secret Life of Machines". But a brief googling reveals that it was really a cover of T5 by Val Bennett retitled "The Russians are Coming".

America's Test Kitchen on PBS does some neat food science.
posted by euphorb at 9:08 PM on June 4, 2004

The BBC had a quite incredible run of science documentaries in the 70s, though the field has never been exclusively theirs.

I don't think that anybody has yet mentioned Jonathan Miller's The Body in Question, dealing with medicine.

When I was small my favorite was Tomorrow's World, at at time when it was still new and exciting in the 60's (though it kept on going and lasted 38 years in all). More technology than straight science, they did squeeze quite a lot of science in there. It was the show where James Burke got his real start as a science presenter, but somehow at the time I always preferred Raymond Baxter, the "senior" presenter.

If you consider archaeology a science, you might also include Michael Wood's In Search of the Dark Ages and John Romer's Romer's Egypt. They maybe more history than science, but then again several of those already mentioned are really history of science, so it seems only fair.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 10:25 PM on June 4, 2004

Dave Brubeck's 'Take Five'

Credit where it's due: the composing credit for 'Take Five' goes to Paul Desmond, the alto player in the Dave Brubeck Quartet. He's also the person you hear most of in that famous original version.

posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 10:42 PM on June 4, 2004

I grew up reading Desmond Morris' books. The Naked Ape was real brain food for my little mind. He was the bomb.

Oh, and here's a Julius Sumner Miller fan page. Turns out he was locally famous all over the world.
posted by chicobangs at 11:22 PM on June 4, 2004

Quinbus, Thanks for those. I'm actually watching Romer's Byzantium, right now. I have to find more of his stuff.
posted by milovoo at 9:17 AM on June 5, 2004

Horkheimer always creeped me out, especially with that moog music at the end (which I think was actually Clair de Lune).
posted by tetsuo at 5:07 PM on June 5, 2004

Also, his show was Star Hustler, which made it seem like he was trying to pimp the cosmos or something.
posted by tetsuo at 5:08 PM on June 5, 2004

i remember as a kid being addicted to Beyond 2000 on the discovery channel (il named at this point). I believe it got remade for a short time recently but i never caught an episode
posted by NGnerd at 11:09 PM on June 5, 2004

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