2018 continues to be a year of thin gruel for science and technology guests on the late night programs. This past week shows as much since the top guest was Alicia Vikander, who plays archaeologist/adventurer Lara Croft in the new Tomb Raider film. She was on both Live with Kelly and Ryan and The Tonight Show on March 14 and on The Late Late Show on March 15.
A close second was Alan Cumming, who is the lead in a new CBS crime procedural Instinct. He plays a professor who studies psychopathic behavior. He was on Late Night with Seth Meyers and Live with Kelly and Ryan on March 13. Instinct premieres in the U.S. tonight.
When waiting for more content, check out the series The Daily Show ran on artificial intelligence the week of March 5. The week started with an overview on recent developments in robots and artificial intelligence before diving into pieces on sex robots (arguably NSFW), the use of AI and robots in the law, and facial recognition software. The show also tackled yet another instance of so-called smart speakers like Alexa acting up, the dubious connection between guns and video game violence, and recent research on the dangers of vaping (with some Uber protests thrown in).
As best as I can tell, 2018 has not been a strong year so far for science and technology related content. Yes, there are the specialty shows – StarTalk and Science Goes to the Movies (both in their fourth seasons) and Bill Nye Saves the World (season 2 dropped at the end of 2017). However, the more traditional outlets continue the lulls started with the departures of Craig Ferguson, Jon Stewart and David Letterman, and the move of Stephen Colbert from cable to broadcast.
That said, there is a guest this past week that sort of fits. Cass Sunstein is a legal scholar whose writing has included the integration of behavioral science into regulation. However, he was on The Opposition with Jordan Klepper on March 6th for his most recent book on authoritarianism.
Unfortunately, the first post-Olympics week has not resulted in an increase of science and technology related guests. Sure, Johnny Galecki, who plays a scientist on The Big Bang Theory, was on with James Corden Monday night (26). But its not hard to find a talk show with a guest from that show. In fact, Galecki did double duty on Monday, also appearing on The Talk (both talk shows are CBS properties, as is The Big Bang Theory).
As is often the case, there were proper science and technology guests on the February 25th edition of StarTalk. The episode focused on long-term missions in space, and host Neil deGrasse Tyson’s interview with astronaut and engineer Scott Kelly was the focus of the episode. Astronaut and test pilot Terry Virts joined Tyson in studio with co-host Chuck Nice.
There was a repeat of note this week. Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays one of the scientists on Star Trek: Discovery, was on with Carson Daly in early February. The show reran that interview on Thursday night (March 1).
The next episode of StarTalk is Sunday, features an interview with Stephen Hawking, and is the last one of the current season. There is no word yet on a fifth season, but the announcement for the current season wasn’t made until after the third season had ended. Stay tuned?
Last week the NBC shows remained off due to the Winter Olympics, which have their closing ceremonies tonight. But except for the President’s Day holiday on Monday, most shows were back with new episodes.
The biggest science and technology content this past week was no doubt the February 18th edition of StarTalk. Host Neil deGrasse Tyson talked surfing with Kelly Slater, a legend in the sport and head of a leading effort in wave-generation technology. Tyson was joined in studio by William Finnegan, a New Yorker writer and surfer, along with oceanographer Travis Schramek and comedian/co-host Chuck Nice.
In new appearances last week, there’s an infrequent mention of Jimmy Kimmel. On the February 19th show Chloe Bennet, who plays a computer expert (and superhero of sorts) on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. visited Jimmy Kimmel Live!
In less encouraging news, the last two scheduled episodes of the new season of MythBusters, with new hosts, have been pulled from the Science Channel lineup. I have no sense of when they will air. While I can’t rule out the possibility that they will not air, it strikes me as unlikely that the network wouldn’t at least run them early some morning to try and get some ad money.
While the late night and other talk show listings have been feeble this year, there have been other options for getting that kind of content.
National Public Radio has delivered on this front quite recently. For the weekend of February 3, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! had on Nobel laureate Michael Rosbash. Dr. Rosbash was recognized in 2017 for his work on circadian rhythms, and played the trivia game “Not My Job.” The following weekend the puzzle program Ask Me Another hosted former astronaut Chris Hadfield. The singer-astronaut was also quizzed on the science of winter sports.
NPR also hosted a short-lived podcast hosted by Paula Poundstone focused on scientific research. The comedian is frequently frustrated on Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! by the questions based on scientific studies and turned that into Live From the Poundstone Institute. While there was always a celebrity guest, the show frequently interviewed researchers about their seemingly weird work.
If you really need some visuals, The Simpsons recently ran an episode with scientific themes. “Haw-Haw Land” started at a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) conference, and included a subplot with Bart exploring the prank potential of chemistry.
With the Winter Olympics in full force, most programs are either off this week or in repeats. Of the repeats to choose from, you could have seen the latest appearance from Neil deGrasse Tyson on The Late Show (Monday the 12th). Star Talk, however, was off this past week, and returns on the 18th with a focus on surfing.
Natalie Portman is starring as a biologist in the upcoming film Annihilation. The film covers an expedition into a mysterious area where the laws of science do not apply. Portman was on with Ellen DeGeneres on Wednesday the 14th, and on Jimmy Kimmel’s program Thursday the 15th.
This was the last week before the Winter Olympics will wreak havoc on talk show schedules. Most of the late night programs will get out of the way – either to avoid the juggernaut or because they air on the same network.
I’ll start the list with a proper mathematician – Danica McKellar. The actress, author and mathematician was on The Real February 7.
StarTalk featured puppets, with an emphasis on Muppets, in its February 4th episode. Noted director and puppeteer Frank Oz was the featured guest.
Regrettably that was it for science and technology guests this week. I will note a recent (January 16th) edition of Today’s Future Now on The Daily Show. Correspondent Ronny Chieng spent the segment poking fun at the latest collection of future gadgets promoted at the Consumer Electronics Show.
On Monday (February 12th) The Late Show will repeat the January episode that featured Neil deGrasse Tyson. StarTalk, however, is off this week.
The latest MythBusters season continues, with two more episodes to air on Wednesdays. New hosts Brian Louden and Jon Lung have been joined on two separate episodes by Allen Pan and Tamara Robertson, who also competed to host the show. Robertson is reportedly going to be part of a science prank show debuting on the Science Channel later this year. Johnny Galecki, who plays one of the scientists on The Big Bang Theory, is producing and will likely host.