Plane on a Conveyor Belt
Plane on a Conveyor Belt

Mythbusters: The Myth That They Cannot Achieve an Emmy.

By Russ Chadwell with special thanks to L. Roger Speakman, C. Byrne and Doug Graham.

We’re human. So, there’s always the chance we’ll make mistakes. Yet, it remains possible to undo mind-bending myths wherever they are, even while being human. And I believe the Mythbusters have done that well enough to deserve an Emmy.

As for me, I know I’ve made my share of gaffes along the way. After all, it would likely have been wiser to have actually gotten into college somehow rather than merely accepting a short-lived position as a production assistant at the USC School of Cinema and Television in 1984. Or, spending the other parts of the eighties enlisted in the military only to fail making that into a career. Well, no one is perfect. And, there would be plenty of other opportunities for me to make additional blunders over the years. However, I’d also find opportunity for righting some of those mistakes, too, I think.

During a several-month-long period wherein I reenlisted to join the war effort of 2007, I stumbled across the Mythbusters while watching television. At first, I merely found myself watching their episodes on the Discovery Channel, but I soon discovered that they had an online presence too. I really opened up to the online group. Especially since, after making the decision to reenlist in the Army, I was constantly being warned by co-workers and friends that I had made a horrible mistake reenlisting at the age of forty-three during wartime. But, since I couldn’t really do anything about it at that point, I found it fairly pleasant when my online comments, opinions and observations were said to be useful and interesting to the Mythbusters. Commenting on the Mythbusters became a means of escape, I suppose. A form of catharsis took over. So, I wrote. I wrote a lot during that time. In fact, I wrote so much I ultimately caught the attention of the Executive Producer for the Mythbusters itself, Dan Tapster.

Dan Tapster wrote me after I insisted that a certain contentious blog of theirs be kept open rather than allowing it to be shut down over undue controversy. I was so into getting everyone’s input on that blog that I wrote an impassioned plea to allow everyone to speak their mind on its topic — because from that mess of twisted words and ideas over the internet came some of the best premises for television I’d ever seen. Naturally, I felt it was far more likely we’d get to the truth on the matter if everyone had their say. And, at the time, it seemed I was right. Our input was ultimately crafted into an episode dedicated to testing the notion that an airplane traveling against a moving, treadmill-like runway could not take off. That episode became the seventeenth most-watched and probably most-disputed episode ever in the show’s 282 episode history: “Plane on a Conveyor Belt”. Some say it was probably a mistake bothering to make that episode. I received a special thanks credit from the show nonetheless and then went on to re-enter the military as an ‘over-forty’ soldier.

During my off time at various training posts along the way, I kept up with my new friends at the Mythbusters. I’d pass along comments to Dan Tapster whenever I found one I liked, and, surprisingly, a lot of that became programming for the show. During combat training, however, I picked up some nagging injuries during a training accident. It was ultimately determined that arthritis had set in and that an earlier attempt to repair the damage with surgery had not worked. It was also determined that my entire thyroid needed to be removed. There were a few other things discovered too. So, basically I’d say my general health wasn’t as spiffy as the initial screening had suggested. I spent the remaining time of my enlistment serving as a medic-in-training at the Emergency Room for the Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas before finally being medically honorably-discharged in 2009, at the age of forty-five. So, now what to do with myself? My body was shot, but my mind seemed strong, at least it did at the time.

Richard Feynman, a great influence on my more thoughtful side, once said, “An average man who works very hard at study and doesn’t give up can become a scientist. Just like me!” Yet, on the same subject, Dr. Michio Kaku, another influential voice I’d discovered, wisely warned, “A student who loses his sense of curiosity during hard study, relegating himself to merely memorizing facts, remains a problem for our education system.” These thoughts vexed me. I wanted to finally attend college for myself. But, as what? What program of study? What was important to me? Both Feynman and Kaku seem to agree that mathematics is at the center of something wonderful, something scientific. But exactly what? Then, while watching the Mythbusters, I wondered if I could become an engineer. And, through watching the Mythbusters, I saw and grew to appreciate a hands-on approach to science. Test everything possible! Have a critical point of view! Work hard. But, when things get out of hand, or even go completely awry, as they might, simply spout off something funny and then just press on. Adam Savage had, for me, just the right attitude. He and the other hosts were actually great role models. If something unplanned, or even detrimental happened, he’d say something like, “Or, that could happen!” seeing the humor in the problem, and then driving on. That was it then. I’d become an engineer, and I’d start out by learning all about mathematics. And that’s no mistake.

With my new direction in life, guided by these experiences, I have now begun a full transformation. Powered by the education resources offered to me by the Post 911 GI Bill and pushed along with the notion that I, like many viewers of the Mythbusters, am now excited about education! And, when things get tough, and they naturally will, I’ll just say to myself, “Failure is always an option!” and then just mysteriously continue along without fail. With that, I am now enrolled in college, pursuing a degree in engineering. I am now working with Calculus, working differential equations, and using the fundamental laws of Physics. This is something I never thought possible, never had the resources before to pursue, but now am doing it! And, I think, in large part due to my experiences with the Mythbusters.

Television has likely never been used for better purposes than what Mythbusters had used it for. They tested everything they could. They made researching, building and testing things entertaining, even useful in some cases, actually saving lives in others. One of their episodes dedicated to testing a driver’s ability to escape from a sinking car was actually credited with providing the information necessary for Theresa Booth to save herself in just such a car-sinking situation. The Mythbusters challenged us to use our minds as critically-thinking tools of invention and for the pursuit of truth. David Letterman said in 2006 that Mythbusters was a tremendous premise for a show. And it was.

And yet, in America at least, the viewership went from skyrocketing toward epic levels to wandering back just a bit toward the end of its fourteen-year run. September, 2015, Adam Savage said he felt Mythbusters didn’t have a chance of winning an Emmy because, “There’s not a lot of core connection between Shark Tank and Mythbusters… We have a fraction of the viewers that the primetime networks do.”

But I think we should reexamine that. I’m not saying Adam Savage is wrong. It’s just that perhaps the Television Academy should look at the larger picture here. After all, the show Mythbusters is viewable throughout the world as well as in the states, online as well as on television. Their positive impact is felt worldwide. The television rating system in America doesn’t always seem to reflect that, I think. Besides, winning an Emmy isn’t strictly about ratings or numbers of viewers anyway. If it were, the competition would simply be about how many viewers the program received or who ever got the highest rating, and that would be that. We all know that’s not how it works.

The show has been nominated over and over again for an Emmy, but has never won. Yes, we have popular shows about getting into business. And those sorts of shows are important. After all, we are a successful country all about business! But there just is no denying that we desperately need more interest in science and engineering too! And that’s what the Mythbusters were helping us to achieve. Other than perhaps Star Trek, few other shows have had the impact that Mythbusters has had getting people interested in science. Adam Savage has said he’s actually met fully employed scientists whose love for science all started with watching Mythbusters.

Shark Tank, which won the Emmy in both 2014 and 2015, has had its share of inventors on its show, it’s true. However, the Mythbusters themselves were arguably inventors too, seemingly working out of their garage, doing as much as they could with so little. In fact, I’ll even go as far as to say that they were the very embodiment of that good old industrious spirit. They were experienced special effects engineers, which only helped them become the very vanguard of that spirit. A spirit of exploration and discovery, an epic voyage of truth, all while wearing a simple set of jeans, merely carrying a wrench. Theirs was a voyage of discovery crafted in such way that it took us along with them during each episode. And it was turning around lives, just as it did mine. How can we let them go without the award they absolutely deserve? How can we live with ourselves if they disappear forever without this one ever-lasting nod of approval? Wouldn’t it be yet another mistake if we allowed this?

Though Adam and Jamie decided to end the show, I often wonder if their decision was at all influenced by the number of waning American viewers. Adam did say, “Every show has its bell curve. We’re cognizant of our ratings. It’s not like they were terrible but we could see them changing.” Even so, there was a bright angle to the way their show would end. Adam said, “The thing that really makes me happy is most cable shows like ours just end. They get past their freshness date, you finish a season and then you hear you’ll never see another one. I truly thought that’s the way Mythbusters would end. We’ve been filming the last season this year and we get to send it off. We get to pay homage to this thing that’s changed our lives.” I know as an online participant to the Mythbusters I personally saw that many of their fans were actually from overseas. Therefore, as a nation, we may have turned our backs on the Mythbusters some, even as the rest of the world apparently widened their embrace.

Since we cannot bring back the show itself, shouldn’t we see fit to at least give the Mythbusters our everlasting support in the form of a much-deserved Emmy win in the category of Best Structured Reality Program before they disappear forever? After all, September 2016 is our last chance! Other shows in the category will have future chances it seems. For the Mythbusters, however, this is it! If they finally win this time, it would mean that everyone who had ever worked on the show, including all those who have had to leave the program before their time, could finally regard themselves as having been part of a truly Emmy-award winning program. If you want that, share this message. Get the word out! The Mythbusters, all of the Mythbusters, deserve that I think.