The January doldrums continue for science and technology guests on late night. Even StarTalk returned to a common topic – science and comedy – with its January 14th episode featuring Late Show host Stephen Colbert. While the discussion of Colbert’s religious faith was an added feature of the main interview, the show has touched on science and comedy several times in the past. Tyson was joined in studio by Adam Conover, another comedian (who hosts a show focused on deconstructing conventional wisdom, Adam Ruins Everything) and Sophia McClennan, who has studied and written on satire and democracy. The episode also featured appearances from Bill Nye the Science Guy and Jesuit priest (and frequent Colbert guest) Jim Martin.
While the new MythBusters season continues, the drought of science and technology guests continued on the talk shows this week. But we have something to look forward to on Sunday the 21st, as StarTalk will focus on the stories of the African-American female NASA mathematicians featured in the recent film and book Hidden Figures.
January continues to be a limited month for science and technology guests on the talk shows. Star Talk once again proves the strongest source, with science communicator and actor Alan Alda as the featured guest on November 7. Neuroscientist Heather Berlin, former co-host of Science Goes to the Movies (and occasional collaborator with her husband, science rapper Baba Brinkman) joined host Neil deGrasse Tyson in studio.
And that’s it for the week.
First, a correction. I assumed based on the promos I watched during the recent MythBusters mega-marathon that the latest episode would feature two contestants from MythBusters: The Search – in addition to new hosts Brian Louden and Jon Lung. That did not happen. Perhaps the myth that featured the other contestants will air later this season, but I do not know this for certain, and when it might happen if it does.
While Star Talk was not on on New Year’s Eve (it returns January 7th, with guest Alan Alda), host Neil deGrasse Tyson does win the week for science and technology content for being the sole guest on the January 5th edition of The Late Show. Just as he was on The Colbert Report, Tyson is the guest with the most appearances (to date) on The Late Show during Stephen Colbert’s tenure as host. Taped earlier in the week – the program doesn’t typically tape on Fridays, Tyson and Colbert discussed general astronomy subjects, including a recent extrasolar object that passed through the solar system recently. Colbert also touched on space-related subjects during other segments of the program, which included a re-airing of his February 2017 visit to the Kennedy Space Center (which is *not* the agency’s headquarters). In this visit, Colbert tried on a new style of spacesuit and poked around the Starliner crew capsule being developed as an option for carrying astronauts into space.
While many programs have returned from their holiday breaks, not all have. There were some repeats this week involving science and technology guests. If you couldn’t stay up on January 5th for Neil deGrasse Tyson on The Late Show, you could have caught a rerun of his September appearance on Harry earlier in the day. Similarly, Silicon Valley actor Kumail Nanjiani had both repeat and original appearances this week. On January 5th he had a new appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show while on the 2nd you could have caught his September appearance on Harry.
Jeff Goodell is an author and journalist who occasionally writes on science topics. On the January 3 edition of The Opposition, Goodell attempted to discuss his latest book – dealing with sea level rise – with host Jordan Klepper.
Merry Christmas (belated)…
The holiday repeats continue, unless the program is actually pre-empted. Some programs will return on January 2nd, but most should be back by January 9th.
Regrettably, none of this week’s repeats featured a science and/or technology linked guest, and Star Talk was off. I am catching up on some shows, and can point you to a lot of recent segments from The Daily Show.
Correspondent Ronny Chieng focused on recent developments in high-tech law enforcement on the December 11 edition. Most of them looked to be a little too ahead of their time, but I’ll let you be the judge. Chieng also had a segment covering the tech trends of 2017 in one of The Daily Show‘s year in review shows, and talked about cryptocurrencies on the December 14 episode. In tech coverage that doesn’t involve Ronny Chieng, the show covered the Federal Communications Commission reversal on net neutrality on December 14.
The MythBusters megamarathon is in full effect until late on January 3rd. I’ll note that the new episode that premieres at the end of the megamarathon includes two of the contestants from MythBusters: The Search that were not new hosts Brian Louden and Jonathan Lung
As I noted in the last post, most programs were off this week for the upcoming Christmas holiday. Amidst the repeats you could find an appearance from a Big Bang Theory actor who plays a scientist. In this case, it was Kunal Nayyar, and his October appearance was on the December 20 repeat of The Talk.
The few new episodes this week feature no appreciable science and/or technology late night content. The December 17th episode of StarTalk focused on interstellar space exploration. The main interview of the episode was with former astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison. She is Principal of the 100 Year Starship project, an effort to develop the capabilities for interstellar flight by the year 2110.
There was also another new episode of MythBusters this week, and the marathon of the series starts tonight (early Saturday) on the Science Channel. It will run for roughly 11 days.
For most programs, last week was the last week they will air new episodes this year. It was also the week leading to the U.S. debut of the latest Star Wars film, which might have crowded out any possible science and technology guests.
The December 10 edition of Star Talk was about science in storytelling and/or the science of storytelling, depending on who you listened to. The main interview was with noted author Salman Rushdie, who writes mostly in the genre of magical realism. He spoke at length about the need for stories to follow an internal logic and set of rules. Literary scholar Jonathan Gottschall talked in studio about the evolution of storytelling with host Neil DeGrasse Tyson and comedian Eugene Mirman.
The director and one of the supporting cast of The Shape of Water made appearances last week. Much of the film takes place at a secret scientific research station. Director Guillermo del Toro was on the December 12 edition of Jimmy Kimmel Live, and co-star Richard Jenkins was on later that night with Carson Daly.
Of course, MythBusters continues to air new episodes of its latest season. Starting early December 23 on the East Coast, nearly every hour of the show will air in the U.S. on the Science Channel.
Amidst the promotional onslaught for the new Star Wars film you can catch word of a film that is both fantastical and appropriate for mentioning here. Guillermo del Toro’s new film, The Shape of Water, premiered in the U.S. earlier this month. The action takes place during the early years of the Cold War at an underground research facility. Stars Michael Shannon (Late Night, December 5) and Octavia Spencer (Jimmy Kimmel Live, December 7) promoted the film this week. It should be noted, however, that neither actor plays a scientist in the film.
The December 3 edition of StarTalk was all about celestial navigation. The featured guest was Nainoa Thompson, a Native Hawaiian navigator who has worked to revive the ancient navigation techniques used by his forebears to cross large stretches of the Pacific Ocean. Tyson wisely let Thompson do much of the talking to explain the old knowledge and contrasted that with an in-studio expert in modern(ish) celestial navigation, Frank Reed. Dava Sobel, author of the book Longitude, joined the show for a segment to discuss the challenge involved in determining longitude and the value of having a reliable method of finding it.
Also of note is that the Friday (December 8) repeat of The Late Late Show includes perennial late night guest Jim Parsons from The Big Bang Theory.
If you’ve not been watching the latest season of MythBusters (with new hosts) in the United States, you will have a chance to catch up with a marathon of the new episodes on Sunday the 10th.