Who is better at hitting a target’s bull’s-eye? Super Bowl–winning quarterback Drew Brees or an Olympic archery competitor? The answer will probably surprise you.
Monday’s collegiate championship game featured lots of action on the basketball court. But none of those actions included a player breaking a backboard with a dunk shot. Not long ago a shattered backboard brought an extra element of excitement to the game, but is that now a thing of the past? Believe it or not, a piano helps determine the answer to that question, and not in a musical way.
If you’re curious about the answers to these and other equally quirky questions, you should be watching Sport Science, perhaps one of the few shows on television that appeals to both the sports fans and the geeks among us. The series, which is currently being shown on ESPN, examines and explains the science and engineering involved in a variety of athletic activities. Professional athletes usually appear on the program as they go about testing the limits of human strength. Like the audience, they come away from the experience with a new appreciation for the science behind their endeavors.
But Sport Science is not the only series being produced by a firm with roots in both Hollywood and the Washington, DC, area. BASE Productions and its co-founder John Brenkus specialize in injecting science into entertainment programming. Its unscripted reality shows and documentaries are also known for making extensive use of motion-capture and CGI technology.
More than a dozen shows in BASE’s portfolio rely on science and/or engineering as a main attraction. These include Wright Brothers for the Discovery Channel, Crime 360 for A&E, and several shows for National Geographic, including Known Universe, Fight Science, Megacities, and American Paranormal. Another show, Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files, is produced for the SyFy channel. It follows a team of investigators that examines photographic and video claims of paranormal activity to determine what’s real. And what’s not.
Not everyone is enamored with the content of these shows. Physicist Rhett Allain wrote about Sport Science for Wired. And the group founded by leading skeptical researcher James Randi took issue with BASE’s paranormal fare.
Nevertheless, Sport Science was nominated and won several Sports Emmy Awards – for graphic design and for new approaches in sports programming. The latter includes the host starring as a real human test dummy in his own show. Check it out and see what you think. Do shows like these make good ambassadors for science?