This week’s column is a fun one. Previously I rounded up comic book characters who are also makers. Hundreds of additional suggestions flooded the comments — you can see them all here (comments). Some of the characters were from TV shows so I promised we’d at least have a “best maker TV show” roundup at some point, and here it is! A few parents emailed me saying they wanted to encourage their kids who loved comics (and comic-based movies) to get into making things, and had used the list as a “playlist” for which comics to pick up. Since many of these TV shows are not on the air anymore, but are available on Netflix, Hulu, cable, DVD, etc., they are excellent and sneaky ways to inspire kids who really like to watch TV/videos to go on to making things. So without further ado, it’s showtime! I picked my top 10 or so and invite you to post up yours (and why) in the comments!
These are in (mostly) alphabetic order, but at the end I pick my favorite of all time — you can decide if I’m correct :)
The A-Team is an American action adventure television series about a fictional group of ex-United States Army Special Forces personnel who work as soldiers of fortune, while on the run from the Army after being branded as war criminals for a “crime they didn’t commit”.
Despite being thought of as mercenaries by the other characters in the show, the A-Team always acted on the side of good and helped the oppressed. The show ran for five seasons on the NBC television network, from January 23, 1983 to December 30, 1986 (with one additional, previously unbroadcast episode shown on March 8, 1987), for a total of 98 episodes.
It remains prominent in popular culture for its cartoon-like use of over-the-top violence (in which people were seldom seriously hurt), formulaic episodes, its characters’ ability to form weaponry and vehicles out of old parts, and its distinctive theme tune.
..In order to escape, the A-Team will usually construct a weapon, often in the form of a vehicle, of sorts from their available resources. This is detailed in a musical montage focusing on the team’s hands and the tools used. The escape will be successful and the antagonist will be defeated with use of the new weapon. The team’s opponents are rarely hurt, as bullets miss their targets and the enemies manage to evade or survive, unscathed, numerous explosions.
I’m glad we’re kicking it off with The A-Team. A great example of “good guys” that help others; although there was a lot of battle, no one really got killed. In each episode, they helped someone and needed to build something to save the day. Hulu has all The A-Team episodes online here. I don’t recall which episode it was, but when I was a kid I tried to make the powered hang glider (didn’t work).
Connections is a ten-episode documentary television series created, written and presented by science historian James Burke.
Connections explores an “Alternative View of Change” (the subtitle of the series) that rejects the conventional linear and teleological view of historical progress. Burke contends that one cannot consider the development of any particular piece of the modern world in isolation. Rather, the entire gestalt of the modern world is the result of a web of interconnected events, each one consisting of a person or group acting for reasons of their own motivations (e.g. profit, curiosity, religious) with no concept of the final, modern result of what either their or their contemporaries’ actions finally led to. The interplay of the results of these isolated events is what drives history and innovation, and is also the main focus of the series and its sequels.
To demonstrate this view, Burke begins each episode with a particular event or innovation in the past (usually ancient or medieval times) and traces the path from that event through a series of seemingly unrelated connections to a fundamental and essential aspect of the modern world. For example, the episode “The Long Chain” traces the invention of plastics from the development of the fluyt, a type of Dutch cargo ship.
When I first met Collin and was trying to get him on board here at MAKE, I explained to others, “He’s like a modern day James Burke.” The appeal for me with Connections was how everything is based on everything else, and the chain of improvements are always unpredictable. YouTube has the complete series here. You can also get the shows on DVD (great gift for anyone who makes anything).
Dirty Jobs is a program on the Discovery Channel, produced by Pilgrim Films & Television, in which host Mike Rowe is shown performing difficult, strange, disgusting, or messy occupational duties alongside the typical employees. A worker or team of workers takes on Rowe as a fully involved assistant for a typical work day, working hard to complete every task as best he can despite discomfort, hazards or repulsive situations. Mike engages in near-constant self-deprecating humor, making what he calls “dirty jokes”, but rarely more than the occasional playful jab at the workers themselves. Nearly every job is even more difficult than he had expected, and this often has him expressing admiration and respect for the workers’ skills and their willingness to take on jobs that most people avoid.
You can watch some of the videos on Discovery.com as well as download the full episodes on iTunes.
And best of all, Mike Rowe was a speaker at Maker Faire Bay Area this year!
A series from MAKE magazine, Twin Cities Public Television, and American Public Television, Make: is a DIY series for a new generation! It celebrates “Makers” – the inventors, artists, geeks and just plain everyday folks who mix new and old technology to create new-fangled marvels. Check out the Episode Guide to watch segments and read descriptions of previous episodes.
I had to include our own show! I think it’s fantastic that John Park, the host, is still working with us here on the site as well! We worked hard to make sure all the episodes are online and will always be free to view. I downloaded them all and put them on USB drives for friends. Above, my favorite segment :)
Mission: Impossible chronicled the missions of a team of secret American government agents known as the Impossible Missions Force (IMF). The leader of the team was Jim Phelps. The series follows the exploits of the Impossible Missions Force (IMF), a small team of secret agents used for covert missions against dictators, evil organizations, and (primarily in later episodes) crime lords. On occasion, the IMF also mounts unsanctioned, private missions on behalf of its members. The identities of the organization which oversees the IMF and the government it works for are never revealed. Only rare cryptic bits of information are ever provided during the life of the series.
The show is definitely more on the gadget side, but that was the cool part. The IMF team was always making something, using a cool (impossible) tool or something to beat the bad guys. I recall the team built a go-cart and smuggled folks under a border too. I’m not sure if there’s any place online you can watch them, but they’re on DVD. I am not a fan of the movie series.
Watch Mr. Wizard is an American television program for children in the 1950s, a general science experiments show, that explained the science behind ordinary things. It was briefly revived in 1971, and then later in the 1980s as a program on the Nickelodeon children’s television network as Mr. Wizard’s World.
In the weekly 30 minute show Don Herbert played a science hobbyist, and every Saturday morning a neighbor boy (Jimmy) or girl would come to visit. Mister Wizard always had some kind of laboratory experiment going that taught something about science. The experiments, many of which seemed impossible at first glance, were usually simple enough to be re-created by viewers.
One example was Mr. Wizard’s use of a small axle and two wheels from a toy car or truck to illustrate the refraction of light when crossing the boundary between two transparent media having different refractive indices. He placed the axle, oriented horizontally, at the top of a sloping board having surfaces with two different coefficients of friction, meeting at an angled straight line. As the axle rolled down the incline, one wheel encountered the surface with the different coefficient of friction first. That wheel then started rolling at a different speed, which caused the axle to rotate away from vertical. It was a wonderful mechanical analogy that made understanding the effect of convex and concave lenses intuitive.
I’ve never met a scientist or engineer over 50 who hasn’t claimed Mr. Wizard is partly responsible for who they are today. I like the 1950s series the most, but the Nick series is great too (above). All of the episodes of the show are available on DVD. Here’s a fun roundup of some odd facts about Mr. Wizard.
Don Herbert and his wife developed a traveling assembly program featuring young performers teaching students about science. It’s estimated that the show was presented to about 1.2 million students every year. Some of Mr. Wizard’s shows included teaching kids why cakes rise, how to cook a hot dog by electrocuting it and showing how centrifugal force worked by using a bucket of water.
The series concept was created for the Discovery Channel as Tall Tales or True by Australian writer and producer Peter Rees of Beyond Productions in 2002. Discovery rejected the proposal initially because they had just commissioned a series on the same topic. Rees refined the pitch to focus on testing key elements of the stories rather than just retelling them. Discovery agreed to develop and co-produce a three-episode series pilot. Hyneman was one of a number of special effects artists who was asked to prepare a casting video for network consideration. Rees had interviewed him previously for a segment of the popular science series Beyond 2000 about the British/American robot combat television series Robot Wars. Savage, who had worked with Hyneman in commercials and on the robot combat television series BattleBots, was asked by Hyneman to help co-host the show because, according to Savage, Hyneman thought himself too uninteresting to host the series on his own.
MythBusters blends making stuff, science, and general destruction all in one 30-minute show. MythBusters is likely the most popular show for makers that’s currently in production. Most/all the episodes are available on iTunes and DVD, but I don’t think there’s a free place online to view them. And of course, Adam Savage has been a fantastic speaker at the last few Maker Faires!
The New Yankee Workshop is a woodworking program produced by WGBH Boston, which aired on PBS. Created in 1989 by Russell Morash, the program was hosted by Norm Abram, a regular fixture on Morash’s This Old House. The series aired for 21 seasons before broadcasting its final episode on June 27, 2009. The New Yankee Workshop featured the construction of woodworking projects, including workshop accessories, architectural details and furniture projects ranging from simple pieces to complex, high-quality reproductions of antique classic furniture. In the course of 21 seasons, approximately 235 projects were produced. In addition to furniture and cabinets, the show also focused on outdoor projects such as the building of a gazebo, shed, greenhouse, sail boat, flag pole, mail box, cupola, and fences.
Since the show ended, it looks like you can purchase all the plans + DVD from each episode — here’s a good one:
Just how does a video recorder work? And how about fax machines, cars, washing machines, electric light, telephones, vacuum cleaners, and refrigerators? You’ll find the answers here. This site is designed as a companion to the TV series The Secret Life Of Machines written by Tim Hunkin, and presented by Tim Hunkin and Rex Garrod.
The Wild Wild West is an American television series that ran on CBS for four seasons (104 episodes) from September 17, 1965 to April 4, 1969. Developed at a time when the television western was losing ground to the spy genre, this show was conceived by its creator, Michael Garrison, as “James Bond on horseback.” The Wild Wild West told the story of two Secret Service agents: James T. West, the charming gunslinger (played by Robert Conrad), and Artemus Gordon (played by Ross Martin), the brilliant gadgeteer and master of disguise. Their unending mission was to protect President Ulysses S. Grant and the United States from all manner of dangerous threats. The agents traveled in luxury aboard their own train, the Wanderer, equipped with everything from a stable car to a laboratory. James West had served as an intelligence and cavalry officer in the US Civil War; his “cover” during the series is that he is a railroad president. After retiring from the Service by 1880 he lives on a ranch in Mexico. Gordon’s past is more obscure; when he retires in 1880 he goes on the road as the head of a Shakespeare traveling players troupe.
If you saw the show, you wanted to be Artemus Gordon.
The show follows the intelligent, optimistic, laid-back, resourceful secret agent Angus MacGyver, played by Richard Dean Anderson. He prefers a non-violent resolution to violence where possible and refuses to handle a gun. MacGyver works as a troubleshooter for the fictional ‘Phoenix Foundation’ in Los Angeles. Educated as a scientist with a background as a Bomb Team Technician/EOD in Vietnam (“Countdown”), and from a fictional United States government agency, the Department of External Services (DXS), he is a resourceful agent able to solve complex problems with everyday materials he finds at hand, along with his ever-present duct tape and Swiss Army knife.
The show’s writers based MacGyver’s inventions on items they found on location, concepts from scientific advisers John Koivula and Jim Green, and real events.The show offered a monetary prize to people who sent good ideas for the show. A young fan suggested that MacGyver could patch up a vehicle’s radiator by cracking an egg into it. The episode “Bushmaster” was constructed around this trick, and the fan was rewarded (producer Henry Winkler said in a 2005 NPR interview that that was his favorite “MacGyverism”). Although staff read every letter, few usable ideas were obtained in this way.
And last but not least on my favorites list, the best maker TV show of all time is MacGyver, hands down. I’m sure there will be a little debate, but it will only be from people who like to debate. When MAKE started, one of the things we heard was it was the “magazine for MacGyvers” (and variations of that). The more I heard that, the more I knew MAKE was going to really take off.
Lee David Zlotoff is the creator of the TV series MacGyver and we’ve been thrilled to have him write articles for MAKE! CBS has many of the episodes online to view for free.
There are many, many others, so post your favorites in the comments and WHY. I’ll stop in over the next day, and if you post something really good with an explanation, I’ll send you something cool from the Maker Shed :)