HOW WE GOT TO NOW With Steven Johnson Celebrates the History and Power of Great Ideas
– Six-Part Series to Premiere in Fall 2014 on PBS –
LOS ANGELES, CA; AUGUST 6, 2013 – Today at the Television Critics Association Press Tour, PBS announced the premiere of HOW WE GOT TO NOW with Steven Johnson in fall 2014. The six-part series, to be produced for PBS by Nutopia and hosted by the popular American science author and media theorist, explores the power and the legacy of great ideas. Topics explored in the series include why and how ideas happen, and their sometimes unintended results, including how the search for clean water opened the way to invention of the iPhone, and how the nagging problem of overheating in a New York printing business led to the invention of air conditioning, which inspired mass migration and a political transformation.
Johnson explains how the answers to the questions he poses in each episode — such as “how do we make something cold?” or “how do we create light?”— have driven other discoveries through the web of ideas and innovations that made each finding possible. Tracking each pursuit through history both ancient and contemporary, Johnson unlocks tales of unsung heroes and radical revolutions that changed the world and the way we live in it.
“PBS’ science programs explore the big, intriguing questions,” said Beth Hoppe, Chief Programming Executive and General Manager of General Audience Programming for PBS. “With the innovative new series HOW WE GOT TO NOW, we’re exploring humankind’s insatiable desire to find answers, invent solutions and make the world a better place.”
Alongside the bizarre coincidences, intense rivalries, terrible failures and moments of heroic achievement that made theories into realities, HOW WE GOT TO NOW uses historical precedents and modern-day analogies to explain why it’s not always the smartest person in the room who has the best idea. From frozen foods entrepreneur Clarence Birdseye to Internet visionary Tim Berners-Lee, Hollywood “Golden Age” actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr to mother of radioactivity Marie Curie, and from Thomas Alva Edison to Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, the series shows how the best ideas can come from surprising places (and take years to shape), as well as how amateurs can revolutionize specialist fields, and why patents are sometimes a big idea’s worst enemy. “It has always been true that problem solvers and inventors are social heroes,” said host Steven Johnson. “From the ancient humans who first harnessed fire to the Romans who modernized their cities, to the engineers and computer geniuses who are working today to make a better tomorrow for humanity. This program underscores the contribution of these heroes and the power of their great ideas.”
“This series is a love letter to the thinkers, inventors, tinkerers and hackers who have driven human progress,” said Jane Root, executive producer for Nutopia, the studio behind the series. “Our ability to continually adapt and inspire the next generation of creators is vital to our shared future. We hope this show will continue the process of inspiration for generations to come.”
Following are descriptions of the six episodes featured in HOW WE GOT TO NOW:
- REFRIGERATION – How our mastery of “cold on demand” helped give birth to at least four million babies, created the golden age of Hollywood and unlocked the secrets of the universe.
- CLEAN – How our battle against dirt created the sidewalk, the swimming pool, the flat screen and the iPhone.
- LIGHT – How our quest to harness light changed our genetic make-up, gave birth to Times Square, Las Vegas, video downloads and an artificial sun.
- SOUND – How the journey to harness sound created the modern world of instant communication, but also helped put thousands of planes in the sky, changed the face of warfare and created a new way for teenagers to rebel.
- TIME – How our journey to calculate time helped create international trade and travel, victory for the North in the Civil War, GPS and understanding of the origins of human life.
- SIGHT – How our quest to see better helped us see the world differently, whether right in front of our noses with the birth of eyeglasses or far beyond our visible universe with the creation of the telescope.
HOW WE GOT TO NOW with Steven Johnson is produced for PBS by Nutopia, with executive producers Peter Lovering, Jane Root, Steven Johnson and Michael Jackson. Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Group LLC, will publish the companion book to the series in Fall 2014.
Major funding for HOW WE GOT TO NOW is provided by the CPB/PBS Program Challenge Fund, which supports high-impact content that engages viewers and new audiences of all demographics.
HOW WE GOT TO NOW will be produced for PBS in association with the BBC and will be distributed internationally by BBC Worldwide.
About Steven Johnson
Steven is both a successful web entrepreneur and bestselling author. His books include “Where Good Ideas Come From,” “Everything Bad is Good for You,” “The Ghost Map,” “The Invention of Air” and most recently “Future Perfect.”
NUTOPIA is a leading independent production company committed to creating ambitious, ground-breaking “event television” for global audiences. The company quickly became known for its signature large-scale documentaries, which it dubbed “mega docs.” The first such program was the twelve-part, Emmy-winning series, AMERICA: THE STORY OF US, for the History channel, which melded high-end CGI, A-list interviews and stylized dramatization, garnering critical acclaim and record audiences. Subsequent “mega doc” have included THE BRITISH for Sky Atlantic (UK), MANKIND: THE STORY OF ALL OF US for History, THE 80s: THE DECADE THAT MADE US for National Geographic Channel, HOW WE INVENTED THE WORLD for Discovery, and more. The company also develops and produces stand-alone films such as ROGUE SHARKS for Discovery, as well as 9/11: STATE OF EMERGENCY and the docudrama TARGETING BIN LADEN for History. The latter featured the first documentary interview with President Barack Obama on the killing of the Al Qaeda leader.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1967, is the steward of the federal government's investment in public broadcasting. It helps support the operations of more than 1,400 locally-owned and -operated public television and radio stations nationwide, and is the largest single source of funding for research, technology, and program development for public radio, television and related online services.
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