Category Archives: Television

Profile: ‘ER’ TV Writer/Advisor Channels Storytelling Towards Social Activism

Television writer, producer, activist and practicing pediatrician Neal Baer, MD.
Television writer, producer, activist and practicing pediatrician Neal Baer, MD.

It has become compulsory for modern medical (or scientifically-relevant) shows to rely on a team of advisors and experts for maximal technical accuracy and verisimilitude on screen. Many of these shows have become so culturally embedded that they’ve changed people’s perceptions and influenced policy. Even the Gates Foundation has partnered with popular television shows to embed important storyline messages pertinent to public health, HIV prevention and infectious diseases. But this was not always the case. When Neal Baer joined ER as a young writer and simultaneous medical student, he became the first technical expert to be subsumed as an official part of a production team. His subsequent canon of work has reshaped the integration of socially relevant issues in television content, but has also ushered in an age of public health awareness in Hollywood, and outreach beyond it. Dr. Baer sat down with ScriptPhD to discuss how lessons from ER have fueled his public health efforts as a professor and founder of UCLA’s Global Media Center For Social Impact, including storytelling through public health metrics and leveraging digital technology for propelling action.
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Podcast: “The Expanse” of Sci-Fi Colonization

The Expanse poster and stills ©2015 NBC Universal, all rights reserved.
The Expanse poster and stills ©2015 NBC Universal, all rights reserved.

Space exploration is enjoying its greatest popularity revival since the Cold War, both in entertainment and the realm of human imagination. Thanks in large part to blockbusters like Gravity, The Martian and Interstellar, not to mention privatized innovation from companies like SpaceX, and fascination with inter-galactic colonization has never been more trenchant. Despite the brimming enthusiasm, there hasn’t been a film or TV series that has tackled the subject matter in a nuanced way. Until now. The Expanse, ambitiously and faithfully adapted by SyFy Channel from the best-selling sci-fi book series, is the best space epic series since Battlestar Galactica. It embraces similar complex, grandiose and ethically woven storylines of human survival and morality amidst inevitable technological advancement. Below, a full ScriptPhD review and in-depth podcast with The Expanse showrunner Naren Shankar.
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Podcast: “Hollyweird Science” and the Quantum Quirks of Entertainment

Hollyweird Science cover ©2015 Springer Books, all rights reserved.
Hollyweird Science cover ©2015 Springer Books, all rights reserved.

Dr. Kevin Grazier has made a career of studying intergalactic planetary formation, and, over the last few years, helping Hollywood writers integrate physics smartly into storylines for popular TV shows like Battlestar Galactica, Eureka, Defiance and the blockbuster film Gravity. His latest book, Hollyweird Science: From Quantum Quirks to the Multiverse traverses delightfully through the science-entertainment duality as it first breaks down the portrayal of science in movies and television, grounding the audience in screenplay lexicon, then elucidates a panoply of physics and astronomy principles through the lens of storylines, superpowers and sci-fi magic. With the help of notable science journalist Stephen Cass, Hollyweird Science is accessible to the layperson sci-fi fan wishing to learn more about science, a professional scientist wanting to apply their knowledge to higher-order examples from TV and film or Hollywood writers and producers of future science-based materials. From case studies, to in-depth interviews to breaking down the Universe and its phenomena one superhero and far-away galaxy at a time, this first volume of an eventual trilogy is the essential foundation towards understanding how science is integrated into a story and ensuring that future TV shows and movies do so more accurately than ever before. Full ScriptPhD review and podcast with author and science advisor Dr. Grazier below.
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Searching For The Next “MacGyver” (On TV And On Campus)

MacGyver creator Lee Zlotoff, a judge, mentor and sponsor of The Next MacGyver STEM competition in LA. ©2015 Paley Center For Media.
MacGyver creator Lee Zlotoff, a judge, mentor and sponsor of The Next MacGyver STEM competition in LA. ©2015 Paley Center For Media.

Engineering has an unfortunate image problem. With a seemingly endless array of socioeconomic, technological and large-scale problems to address, and with STEM fields set to comprise the most lucrative 21st Century careers, studying engineering should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, attracting a wide array of students — or even appreciating engineers as cool — remains difficult, most noticeably among women. When Google Research found out that the #2 reason girls avoid studying STEM fields is perception and stereotypes on screen, they decided to work with Hollywood to change that. Recently, they partnered with the National Academy of Sciences and USC’s prestigious Viterbi School of Engineering to proactively seek out ideas for creating a television program that would showcase a female engineering hero to inspire a new generation of female engineers. The project, entitled “The Next MacGyver,” came to fruition last week in Los Angeles at a star-studded event. ScriptPhD.com was extremely fortunate to receive an invite and have the opportunity to interact with the leaders, scientists and Hollywood representatives that collaborated to make it all possible. Read our full comprehensive coverage below.
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Editor’s Selection: Robots Invade Summer Television

Image ©MIT, all rights reserved.
Image ©MIT, all rights reserved.

From a sci-fi and entertainment perspective, 2015 may undoubtedly be nicknamed “The Year of The Robot.” Several cinematic releases have already explored various angles of futuristic artificial intelligence (from the forgettable Chappie to the mainstream blockbuster Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron to the intelligent sleeper indie hit Ex Machina), with several more on the way later this year. Two television series premiering this summer, limited series Humans on AMC and Mr. Robot on USA add thoughtful, layered (and very entertaining) discussions on the ethics and socio-economic impact of the technology affecting the age we live in. While Humans revolves around hyper-evolved robot companions, and Mr. Robot a singular shadowy eponymous cyberhacking organization, both represent enthusiastic Editor’s Selection recommendations from ScriptPhD. Reviews and an exclusive interview with Humans creators/writers Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent below.
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REVIEW: SyFy Channel takes off with “Ascension”

As part of an ongoing recommitment to its sci-fi genre roots, SyFy Channel is unveiling the original scripted drama Ascension, for now a six hour mini-series, and possible launch for a future series. It follows a crew aboard the starship Ascension, as part of a 1960s mission that sent 600 men, women and children on a 100 year planned voyage to populate a new world. In the midst of political unrest onboard the vessel, the approach of a critical juncture in the mission and the first-ever murder onboard the craft, the audience soon learns, there is more to the mission than meets the eye. Which can also be said of this multi-layered, ambitious, sophisticated mini-series. Full ScriptPhD review below.

Ascension poster
Ascension poster and stills ©2014 NBC Universal, all rights reserved.

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REVIEW: “Helix”

Helix movie poster
Helix poster and stills ©2014 NBC Universal, all rights reserved.

The biggest threat to mankind may not end up being an enormous weapon; in fact, it might be too small to visualize without a microscope. Between global interconnectedness and instant travel, the age of genomic manipulation, and ever-emerging infectious disease possibilities, our biggest fears should be rooted in global health and bioterrorism. We got a recent taste of this with Stephen Soderberg’s academic, sterile 2011 film Contagion. Helix, a brilliant new sci-fi thriller from Battlestar Galactica creator Ronald D. Moore, isn’t overly concerned with whether the audience knows the difference between antivirals and a retrovirus or heavy-handed attempts at replicating laboratory experiments and epidemiology lectures. What it does do is explore infectious disease outbreak and bioterrorism in the greater context of global health and medicine in a visceral, visually chilling way. In the world of Helix, it’s not a matter of if, just when… and what we do about it after the fact. ScriptPhD.com reviews the first three episodes under the “continue reading” cut.
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Defiance Breaks Sci-Fi Mold

Defiance television show and video game images are ©2013 NBC Universal. All rights reserved.

SyFy channel’s new show Defiance is breaking the mold in every way. An unusual combination of fantasy blockbuster, small town mystery and sci-fi action drama, Defiance takes place on a decimated, post-apocalyptic Earth set several decades into the future. After an alien invasion and war, hmans try to co-exist with a group of aliens that are both friend and foe in a small town literally defying the odds. ScriptPhD.com was extremely fortunate to have access to one of the head writers of the show, as well as its official science advisor. In our interviews, we delve deeper into the backbone of this sci-fi hit, which is a terrific, engaging story, paired with colorful characters and the clever incorporation of science to support the plot. More after the “continue reading” cut.

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Artificial Intelligence: The Risk of Robots on the Rampage

For every friendly robot we see in science fiction such as Star Wars’s C3PO, there are others with a more sinister reputation that you can find in films such as I, Robot. Most movie robots can indeed be classified into a range of archetypes and purposes. Science boffins at Cambridge University have taken the unusual step of evaluating the exact risks of humanity suffering from a Terminator-style meltdown at the Cambridge Project for Existential Risk.

“Robots On the Run” is currently an unlikely scenario, so don’t stockpile rations and weapons in panic just yet. But with machine intelligence continually evolving, developing and even crossing thresholds of creativity and and language, what holds now might not in the future. Robotic technology is making huge advances in great part thanks to the efforts of Japanese scientists and Robot Wars. For the time being, the term AI (artificial intelligence) might sound like a Hollywood invention (the term was translated by Steven Spielberg in a landmark film, after all), but the science behind it is real and is not going to go away. Robots can now actually learn things akin to the way humans pick up information. Nevertheless, some scientists believe that there are limits to the level of intelligence that robots will be able to achieve in the future. In a special ScriptPhD guest post, we examine the current state of artificial intelligence, and the possibilities that the future holds for this technology.
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It’s Not Easy Being Green: Water, Our Next Endangered Resource (And Innovation Opportunity)

“The wars of the 21st Century will be fought over water.” —Ismail Serageldin, World Bank

Last Call at the Oasis film poster ©2012, Participant Media, all rights reserved.

Watching the devastation and havoc caused by Hurricane Sandy and several recent water-related natural disasters, it’s hard to imagine that global water shortages represent an environmental crisis on par with climate change. But if current water usage habits do not abate, or if major technological advances to help recycle clean water are not implemented, this is precisely the scenario we are facing—a majority of 21st Century conflicts being fought over water. From the producers of socially-conscious films An Inconvenient Truth and Food, Inc., Last Call at the Oasis is a timely documentary that chronicles current challenges in worldwide water supply, outlines the variables that contribute to chronic shortages and interviews leading environmental scientists and activists about the ramifications of chemical contamination in drinking water. More than just an environmental polemic, Last Call is a stirring call to action for engineering and technology solutions to a decidedly solvable problem. A ScriptPhD.com review under the “continue reading” cut.
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