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Where does one start?

by Ryan Johnson, Oct 24 2008

My life as a skeptic was always there I guess. It wasn’t until I was listening to podcasts while traveling back and forth between my hometown of Santa Maria and Hollywood during the second season of the TV series, American Dragster, that I direct, I realized what being skeptical really was.

As I grew up, I saw the magazines of my father’s on the table, and my mom frequently called him a skeptic, but I always equated that with a cynic, as do many, unfortunately. Both my parents are wise and incredibly supportive. My mother, amazingly creative and adept at transforming art and music, and my father, a technophile with a passion for electronics and computers. Me, well I kinda got stuck in the middle. I see myself as a creative person that has an insatiable appetite for the technology that surrounds us. It’s only fitting that my career is in the TV and video production field. I get the best of both worlds. The creative, writing scripts, envisioning shots, angles, lighting and music and sound, as well as dealing with the various technologies that allow it to all come together. Though oftentimes, the technology seems to be figuring out a way of dealing with me.

Now I understand, and I wish more people did; that discovering there’s a whole community of people that share differing strengths of the skeptic philosophy of letting “real” be real, is a very liberating and satisfying experience.

Though, in the “skeptic community” of well known and visible skeptics, I am virtually an unknown, I hope one day to have made a mark that surpasses the community and reaches out to the teeming masses of the world.

I’d like to share with you how I have started my journey to do just that.

The Fourth Wall

In the theatre there’s an expression called the fourth wall. It describes that invisible wall between what’s happening on stage and the audience. In many performances, breaking through that fourth wall is a taboo, It’s what separates the world of performance and the world of reality. It also creates a sense of security with the audience, and conversely the performers sometimes as well. That fourth wall is what also keeps many from taking action and reaching out in many things in life. They perceive this invisible wall that prevents them from becoming a player in the events that surround them.

Listening to The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, Skepticality, and Skeptoid, I discovered a new line of thinking, and I felt invigorated. And while listening to the various people talk, I heard a common theme, “There’s got to be a way to get this out to the masses” and “how do we do it?” I listened and, sealed from the discussions by that fourth wall, I was left to download, play and ruminate about the many topics described.

As the final episodes of American Dragster were nearing completion, and I was approaching total exhaustion while working 20+ hour days between flying to the NHRA Drag Racing events, and hours in post production finalizing shows for delivery to ESPN, I begun to start thinking about what I would want to watch on TV, should I ever have the luxury of being home for a few days, and sitting on the couch, beside my dog and watching some TV.

And then, as simple as a hammer to a sheet of candy glass, that idea came to me. Why not a TV show about Skepticism? How could these things be presented in a way that would make an entertaining show? I had no real idea at that point, but I decided, that the scientists of the world, the thinkers and the educators needed to become the heroes of our world. I’m tired of comic book heroes, and people with false powers. Bring on the people that wake up each morning and put in the real time and energy in really doing science, really dreaming and researching new ideas, and really teaching the children of our world how to go forward and have a positive impact on the world. It was time to reach through that fourth wall.

I reached out, first, to Brian Dunning. It was very quickly obvious to me that Brian’s talent for distilling the complex into the manageable would be an asset that would be required for executing a good TV series. I’m happy to say that was a great call, and I am also so glad to be able to now call Brian a great friend.

After a brief first meeting with Brian and a few phone calls, he came aboard as Co-Executive producer and we got things rolling in earnest. I brought David Vienna, my close friend, gifted writer and story producer who got serious about getting busy coming up with a good concept. From there I enlisted Shawna Young, a long time friend and also a producer of American Dragster to assist me with the intricacies of setting up the show.

Over the next few months, in-between all of our other commitments Brian, David and I discussed different ideas and worked through what we thought would be a good combination of entertainment and education. The ideas ranged from the completely ridiculous, to the utterly inane, until we honed the details to create what we thought would be the best presentation of a skeptical point of view with real-world subjects and of course, an element that makes all the difference in a popular TV series: Dynamic and charismatic characters. Enter The Skeptologists. A team of educated, experienced and creative professionals. They will research the claim, examine the evidence firsthand, experiment and research to come to find the proof!

In the next few weeks I’ll try and describe the process that went into producing the pilot for The Skeptologists, as well as keep you informed of the status of getting our show on the air!

Even though my life is in the entertainment and production world, I’m so happy that I was able to break through the fourth wall and find a real community out there that shares a lot of my same beliefs, aspirations and desires to elevate science, critical thinking and reason to a whole new level! Break a leg!

10 Responses to “Where does one start?”

  1. shane says:

    I’m sure I’m speaking for most of the readers of this blog Ryan that we have everything crossed (in a non-superstitious way of course) and hope that you get The Skeptologists on air.

  2. Jim Shaver says:

    Thanks, Ryan! I’ve been looking forward to The Skeptologists since the first of the year. Any word yet on when we may see it on TV or the internet?

  3. Al says:

    I truly hope the show finds a place on the air, and isn’t shot down by short sighted TV execs. In addition to an already devoted niche market, there must be many potential skeptics out there, who just need to be nudged in the right direction.

    Best of luck!

  4. Sky says:

    Wow, Im actually excited about something related to television!
    (No offense to your drag racing show, of course) :)

  5. Chris Kavanagh says:

    If Irish luck actually existed I’d be using up my stock to try and get this show to air. It’s great to hear how the idea got started, it sounds like a sure fire hit to me, but then maybe I’m a little biased!

    Anyway Good Luck!

  6. TonyK says:

    It sounds like the kind of show we need, but why put the effort into getting it onto TV first? Put it out there, tweak the format, gain a following, THEN go to the execs (or, wait for them to come to you). If you start on TV, you’re going to start with people telling you how to do it. If you come up with a format that you’ve proven to work, it makes it harder for “those who know better” to make changes.

    Just my 2c.

  7. Nomad says:

    If this show can get made, it will be an immeasurable boon to skeptics everywhere. No show has done as much good as mythbusters has, and a show tailored more to the skeptical topics is invaluable.

  8. George Parry says:

    Boy do we need a skeptic TV show to counter all the nonsense and non-science on the history, discovery and learning channels.
    I sure hope it comes about.

  9. Ashley Carr says:

    It appears to me that the Skeptical industry recides almost entirely in the USA (with the notable exception of Richard Dawkins I too would like to know when we can expect, if ever, to see the show here in the UK. Are you for example going to offer it to the predominant satellite channel here in the UK, Sky?