Television Business International

Mythbusters turns ten

Beyond’s Mythbusters has achieved what very few factual programmes have and become a long-running franchise. TBI speaks to the hosts and executive producer of the hit series.

In one sense Mythbusters was actually born out of Robot Wars, the Mentorn show in which rival teams of geeks built robots before seeing which could most successfully smash the other to pieces. Mythbusters’ host Jamie Hyneman was behind Blender, the robot deemed so destructive that it was, for a period, deemed too dangerous for the show.

Based on that robot-building notoriety, Hyneman met Peter Rees of Australia’s Beyond Productions and Mythbusters was ultimately born out of that relationship.

Hyneman recruited one of his employees, Adam Savage, along the way as a co-host.

Ten years, almost 200 episodes, 855 myths and a meeting with President Obama later, the pair remains on-screen, testing myths in wild and wonderful ways.

Hyneman is the studious foil to Savage’s more outgoing, gregarious on-screen person. “I am the person I am on-screen; I’m not a social butterfly and that’s why I brought Adam on,” Hyneman says. “I never sought to be on camera, but thought [Mythbusters] was a good business decision and it was good to be doing a diverse range of things.”

Savage agrees: “What we ended up with, accidentally, was a funny man-straight man dynamic,” he says. He adds that he knew the show had become a cultural phenomenon when The Onion spoofed it back in 2004.

As with any hit show, it isn’t long before others try to copy, or take elements of what is working well on-screen.

“The great thing about Mythbusters and why it works where the copycats don’t is that the premise is so simple: we start the show with a question – and finish by answering it. There is no doubt that the concept is strong, but a large part of the success and longevity is down to Adam and Jamie,” says Dan Tapster, who is the show’s current executive producer.

That simple premise means the show attracts a wide demo, “from professors to preschoolers”, and that can make it challenging in terms of showing the science and making it entertaining. But the team are all clear that showing the unvarnished results of the experiments, whether successful or not, is important to them and the viewers.

“There’s no BS in there; if the experiments don’t work, we show that,” Tapster says. “What percentage of experiments doesn’t make it the final show? None.”

Beyond makes and distributes the show, which is on the Discovery Channel, and has sold it the world over.

It has been tweaked over the years, but has the same DNA as when it started.

Hyneman says: “The basic premise is the same. We came in as guys who have can-do skills in putting things together and we have had a heck of an education, so the level of difficulty in what we can do has changed.”

Having been a writer on the show since 2004, Tapster says he has taken a different approach to Peter Rees since taking charge.

“Peter Rees wanted to give the show a feel that it was a couple of guys in a shed doing something that you, the viewer, could do,” he says. “But after a while it becomes apparent you can’t do that and that the level of expertise on screen is beyond what anyone else out there can do. We wanted to reflect that visually, so I introduced more high-speed cameras, more mini-cameras and made it a more visual show.”

Hyneman and Savage film the show in San Francisco and the post production is done in Sydney, so it is perhaps not a surprise that Tapster works out of the UK. The team make about 22 episodes of the show a year, giving Discovery a regular supply of episodes and Beyond’s sales team a large volume of content to sell around the world.

Savage, who cites hand-feeding an octopus that had a crush on him and being dropped off a building packaged in bubble wrap as among his highlights over the past 10 years, reckons the team have at least two or three years’ worth of new episodes in mind.