For a while, science shows and wildlife doccies were more cerebral than entertaining. But that approach has evolved thanks to shows like MythBusters, Factomania and Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. In making science fun and relatable, TV shows are attracting a larger fan base. Debashine Thangevelo caught up with Jason Silva to find out how National Geographic’s Brain Games gets into the heads of viewers.
SCIENCE is for geeks. That used to be the general consensus – until MythBusters, Factomania and Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey invaded our screens.
But rather than bog down viewers with scientific jargon, which was the blueprint for too long, TV producers have bridged the divide by integrating elements of fun, playfulness and relevance in this era of Google geniuses.
And National Geographic’s Emmy-nominated Brain Games, hosted by Jason Silva, a filmmaker and philosopher, joins this pioneering era for science shows.
Interestingly, Silva registered on the radar after his Shots of Awe series appeared on Discovery Digital Networks’ TestTube online channel.
During his visit to South Africa, Tonight spoke to the host.
He says animatedly: “I have been here for about eight days. The first six were spent in Cape town. It’s my first time here (Joburg). I’m really happy so far… the people are nice and the food is awesome.”
On the conception of the series, Silva says: “It was National Geographic’s effort at creating a series that teaches people neuro-science with interactive components like games and illusion. The idea was to get people to learn by participating.
“It started out as a three-part special and then they decided to adapt it into a full series.”
His enthusiastic and informed response also hinted at his passion for the subject.
As for the pull of the series, he hypothesises: “I think people become intimidated by science. How do you communicate it in a successful way while also creating a series that is entertaining and a catalyst for curiosity? That is a tightrope to walk. That is what we try to do with Brain Games.”
Silva is also quick to point out that the scientific information is sound and facts don’t get in the way of the fun and experiments.
“We work with a team of writers and brain experts who specialise in specific cognitive areas. They consult on the games and experiments to make sure we are scientifically sound. Then we all work together to put it into my voice and make it more ‘palatable’ (to viewers).”
While this is work, it doesn’t stop Silva, who is a sponge for information, from having a ball during the show.
He recalls one of the interesting experiments they conducted.
“We put a hidden camera in a booth that said, ‘Free Money’. There was nobody in the booth. People were sceptical, but eventually came in and took the money. Then we put up two big cut-out cardboard eyes. The moment you put that up, they perceived it as being watched and were not as quick to take the money.”
Given the popularity of Brain Games, the show has already received the green light for another series: “We are already working on a new season with 10 episodes…”
As for whether his Shots of Awe video snippets have been put on the backburner, Silva says: “I have looked at expanding it to a documentary series on TV. I have several ideas. It is definitely a conversation at the moment.”
• Brain Games 2 repeats on National Geographic (DStv channel 181), July 18, 6.50am.