Friday, May 23, 2008

The Big Bang

Twelve years ago, Nobel prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman was concerned about the rising tide of anti-science in the mass media. Prime-time TV shows like Unsolved Mysteries and The X-Files feed our appetite for pseudoscience and superstition, he said. So he teamed up with TV producer Adrian Malone, of Cosmos and The Ascent of Man, to develop a science-based competitor to ER and NYPD Blue.

I don't recall the outcome. But at the time in my Boston Globe column I made the following suggestions for prime-time shows:
Chesapeake Baywatch A group of gorgeous young Ph.D. oceanographers watch over the ecosystem of Chesapeake Bay. In Speedo briefs and thong bikinis, our cast of hunks and babes collect plankton, count the eggs of horseshoe crabs, and band piping plovers.

4615 Melrose Place A group of Cal Tech physics graduate students share the apartment next door to the hip swingles of the Monday night soap. Their occasional early morning at-home encounters are charged with psychosexual tension as they discuss nuclear scattering cross-sections and multidimensional string theory.

NYPD White A spine-tingling scientific thriller set in the Forensic Science section of the New York City Police Department. Our bosom-enhanced hero, Dr. Jennifer Sweet, spills out of her white lab coat as she pits her DNA polymerase chain reaction amplification skills against perpetrators of crime.

The Simpsons: The Next Generation Lisa Simpson has grown up and teaches chemistry at Springfield High School. In Episode One, she prepares her students for the State Science Fair while struggling with the ethical implications of disconnecting her father from life-support. Meanwhile, Bart embarrasses his sister by claiming to be an alien abductee.

Square Wheel of Fortune Mathematicians spin the wheel and compete to guess mathematical formulas. The grand prizes include a platinum pocket protector, a two-week holiday at the math department of Iowa State, and a facsimile edition of the collected mathematical papers of Gottlob Frege and Giuseppe Peano.

Late Show with Leon Lederman Nobel laureate and raconteur Leon Lederman interviews guests from the world of science. The star-studded pilot features Lee Smolin talking about quantum gravity applied to space-time, Roger Penrose on Hilbert's 10th problem and the noncomputability of consciousness, and Lynn Margulis on symbiosis and the evolution of the eukaryotic cell. Lederman will begin with an hilarious monologue about up and down quarks.
It turns out I was ahead of my time. A new situation comedy called The Big Bang Theory is a smash hit on CBS: two male physics postdoc nerds living next door to a blonde bombshell.