MythBusters is a science entertainment TV program created and produced by an Australian company, Beyond Television Productions originally for the Discovery Channel in the United States. The series is screened by numerous international broadcasters, including SBS One and the Discovery Channel in Australia and Quest and the Discovery Channel in the UK. The show's hosts, special effects experts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, use elements of the scientific method to test the validity of rumors, myths, movie scenes, adages, Internet videos and news stories.
Filming is based in San Francisco, California, though some elements of production are done in Artarmon, Australia. Planning and some experimentation takes place at Hyneman's workshops; experiments requiring more space or special accommodations are filmed on location, typically around the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California. During the second season, members of Savage and Hyneman's team ("The Build Team") were organized into a second team and now test myths separately from the main duo.
HistoryThe 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. During July 2006, an edited thirty-minute version of MythBusters began airing on BBC Two in the UK. The episodes shown on the European Discovery Channel sometimes include extra scenes not shown in the U.S. version (some of these scenes are included eventually in "specials", such as "MythBusters Outtakes").
CastSavage and Hyneman are the original MythBusters, and initially explored all the myths of the series using their combined experience with special effects. The two work at Hyneman's effects workshop, M5 Industries; they make use of his staff, who often work off-screen, with Hyneman and Savage usually shown doing most of the work at the shop. The show is narrated by Robert Lee, though in some regions his voice is replaced by a local narrator.
As the series progressed, members of Hyneman's staff were introduced and began to appear regularly in episodes. Three such members, artist Kari Byron, builder Tory Belleci and metal-worker Scottie Chapman, were organized as a second team of MythBusters during the second season, dubbed the "Build Team". After Chapman left the show during the third season, Grant Imahara, a colleague of Hyneman, was hired to provide the team with his electrical and robotics experience. Byron went on maternity leave in mid-2009, with her position on the Build Team temporarily filled by Jessi Combs, best known for co-hosting Spike's Xtreme 4x4. Byron returned in the second episode of season eight. The Build Team now works at its own workshop, called M7, investigating separate myths from the original duo. Each episode now typically alternates between the two teams covering different myths, although occasionally the two teams still work together.
The series had two interns, dubbed "Mythterns": Discovery Channel contest winner Christine Chamberlain and viewer building contest-winner Jess Nelson. During the first season, the program featured segments with folklorist Heather Joseph-Witham, who explained the origins of certain myths, and other people who had first-hand experience with the myths being tested, but those elements were phased out early during the series. The MythBusters still commonly consult with experts for myths for topics for which they need assistance. These topics include firearms, for which they mostly consult Lt. Al Normandy of the South San Francisco Police Department, and explosives, for which they consult retired FBI explosives expert Frank Doyle and Sgt. J.D. Nelson of the Alameda County Sheriff's Office. The MythBusters ask those during testing (such as those supplying the equipment being tested) what they know about the myth under investigation.
EpisodesThere is no consistent system for organizing MythBusters episodes into seasons. The program does not follow a typical calendar of on and off air periods. The official MythBusters website lists episodes by year. On the other hand, Discovery sells DVD sets for "seasons", which sometimes follow the calendar year and sometimes don't. In addition Discovery also sells "collections" which divide up the episodes in a different way.
The following table is organized according to year of first broadcast.
|Season||Episodes||First airdate||Last airdate||Special |
|Pilot (2003)||3||January 23, 2003||March 7, 2003|
|2003||8||September 23, 2003||December 12, 2003|
|2004||20||January 11, 2004||December 22, 2004||4|
|2005||26||February 2, 2005||November 16, 2005||7|
|2006||28||January 11, 2006||December 13, 2006||2|
|2007||25||January 10, 2007||December 12, 2007||4|
|2008||20||January 16, 2008||November 19, 2008||8|
|2009||23||April 8, 2009||December 28, 2009||3|
|2010||18||January 4, 2010||8|
FormatEach MythBusters episode focuses typically on several popular beliefs, Internet rumors, or other myths. The list of myths tested by the series is compiled from many sources, including the personal experiences of cast and crew, as well as fan suggestions, such as those posted on The Discovery Channel online MythBusters forums. Occasionally, episodes are produced in which some or all of the myths are related by theme such as pirates or sharks, and occasionally these are dubbed as "[Theme] Special" episodes. As of May 2009, four myths have required such extensive preparation and testing that they had entire episodes devoted solely to them, and four specials have been double-length. Several episodes (including the 2006 Holiday Special) have included the building of Rube Goldberg machines. Before a myth gets introduced by the hosts, a myth-related drawing is made on a blueprint. After the hosts introduce the myth, a comical video explaining the myth is usually shown.
Experiment approachThe MythBusters typically test myths in a two-step process. In early episodes, the steps were described as "replicate the circumstances, then duplicate the results" by Savage. This means that first the team attempts to recreate the circumstances that the myth alleges, to determine whether the alleged result occurs; if that fails, they attempt to expand the circumstances to the point that will cause the described result. Occasionally the team (usually Savage and Hyneman) will hold a friendly competition between themselves to see which of them can devise a more successful solution to recreating the results. This is most common with myths involving building an object that can accomplish a goal (for example, rapidly cooling a beer, or finding a needle in a haystack).
While there is not any specific formula the team obeys in terms of physical procedure, most myths involve construction of various objects to help test the myth. They utilize their functional workshops to create whatever is needed, often including mechanical devices and sets to simulate the circumstances of the myth. Human actions are often simulated by mechanical means in order to increase safety, and to achieve consistency in repeated actions. Methods for testing myths are usually planned and executed in a manner to produce visually dramatic results, which generally involves explosions, fires, and/or vehicle crashes. Thus, myths or tests involving explosives, firearms and vehicle collisions are relatively common.
Tests are sometimes confined to the workshop, but often require the teams to be outside. Much of the outdoor testing during early seasons took place in the parking lot of M5. A cargo container in the parking lot commonly serves as an isolation room for dangerous myths, with the experiment being triggered from outside. However, budget increases have permitted more frequent travel to other locations in San Francisco and around the Bay Area. Common filming locations around the Bay Area include decommissioned (closed) military facilities (such as Naval Air Station Alameda, Naval Air Station Moffett Field, Naval Station Treasure Island, Marin Headlands, Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Hamilton Air Force Base, and abandoned base housing at Marina, California's former Fort Ord), and the Alameda County Sheriff's Bomb Squad and Firearm range. Occasionally, mainly for special episodes, production is out of state, or even out of the country.
Results are measured in a manner scientifically appropriate for the given experiment. Sometimes results can be measured by simple numerical measurement using standard tools, such as multimeters for electrical measurements, or various types of thermometers to measure temperature. To gauge results that don't yield numerical quantities, the teams commonly make use of several types of equipment which can provide other forms of observable effects. When testing physical consequences to a human body which would be too dangerous to test on a living person, the MythBusters commonly use analogues. Initially, they mainly used crash test dummies (most notably one they named Buster) for observing blunt trauma injury, and ballistic gelatin for testing penetrating trauma. They have since progressed to using pig carcasses when an experiment requires a more accurate simulation of human flesh, bone, and organs. They have also occasionally molded real or simulated bones within ballistics gel for simulations of specific body parts.
Both for the purposes of visual observation to determine a result, and simply as a unique visual for the program, high speed cameras are used during experiments and have become a trademark of the series. Very fast footage of moving objects in front of a measured scale is commonly utilized to determine the speed of the object.
Testing is often edited due to time constraints of a televised episode. It can often seem as if the teams draw results from fewer repetitions and a smaller data set than they actually have. During the Outtakes Special, they specifically stated that while they are, in fact, very thorough in testing myths and repeat experiments many times in many different configurations, it is simply impossible to display all of it during a program. Beginning in the fifth season, episodes typically contain a prompt for the viewer to visit the show's homepage to view outtake footage of either additional testing, or other facets of the myths being tested. However, Savage himself has acknowledged that they do not purport always to achieve a satisfactorily large enough set of results to overcome definitively all bias.
In response to criticisms they receive about their methods and results in previous episodes, the staff produced several "Myths Revisited" episodes, in which the teams retest myths to see if the complaints have merit. These episodes have resulted in overturning results of several myths, as well as upholding some results for different reasons than originally concluded.
There are some myths the MythBusters refuse to test. Paranormal concepts, such as aliens or ghosts, are not addressed because they cannot be tested by scientific methods, although one exception, pyramid power, prompted Adam to comment, "No more 'oogie-boogie' myths, please." The program generally avoids experiments harmful to live animals, though in one episode they bombarded cockroaches and other laboratory insects with lethal doses of radiation and the cast addressed this, saying that the insects were specifically bred for experiments and would have likely died anyway. However animal carcasses, including those of pigs and chickens, are often used. The book MythBusters: The Explosive Truth Behind 30 of the Most Perplexing Urban Legends of All Time (ISBN 1-4169-0929-X) also gives a list of a dozen myths that are unlikely to be explored (although four were eventually tested). Savage has commented that it is difficult to test myths that require them to disprove general claims because of the inherent difficulty in proving a negative. As a result, when they do pursue such myths, they typically go about disproving specific methods that claim to achieve results. Additionally, certain myths are not tested due to various objections by Discovery Channel or their advertisers. Through the first seven seasons, a total of 2,326 experiments were performed and 11 tons of explosives were used to test 738 myths. The team has also expressed reluctance to test conspiracy theory myths such as the JFK assassination or 9/11 conspiracies, although they have tested some of the conspiracy theories relating to the Apollo Moon landings.
Conclusions of the experimentsBy the end of each episode, each myth is rated "busted," "plausible," or "confirmed".
- The myth's results cannot be replicated via either the described parameters nor reasonably exaggerated ones. Often, when a myth is declared Busted, the team will try to see what would be required to replicate the result of the myth, regardless of the facts of the myth itself. This is commonly referred to in the series as "the MythBusters way", and often reveals that the circumstances required to accurately recreate a 'Busted' myth are physically impossible (requiring equipment that doesn't exist, or conditions that will never occur physically), wildly implausible (requiring so much time/equipment that a myth is theoretically possible but is too impractical to have happened), or would result in the death or serious injury of the myth's human subject.
- Some of these myths are retested if the viewers are dissatisfied with the results, and are declared "Re-Busted" if the results of this second try constitute failure in the team's opinion.
- Plausible is given under a few circumstances:
- The myth's results can only be replicated by expanding some parameters of the myth by a realistic and reasonable margin. This may have been due to facts of the myth having been altered slightly over time by it being told and re-told by the time it was tested by the MythBusters. Also, certain materials may have had to be substituted for others in some cases as a matter of necessity during the course of the myth being tested, but the new materials are almost always very similar to the materials specified and usually are readily available, so as to prevent it from being prohibitively costly or impractical.
- If there is not any documentation of the myth occurring, yet the MythBusters were still able to duplicate it very closely to how the myth was described (such as the myth that pirates wore eye patches for enhanced night vision, or a civilian being talked into landing an airplane).
- If it requires a highly improbable set of circumstances, yet shown to be possible under similar yet artificial circumstances. For example, in the myth of, "Can two colliding bullets fuse together?" it was shown that two bullets can fuse together but would be exceedingly difficult to actually get two period guns with period ammunition to collide in the correct way to cause the result, however the results can be created in a similar laboratory setting.
- If the results stated in the myth are attainable, but in such a way as to make the process either highly dangerous or less efficient than more common methods of achieving the same result. For example, in "Car vs. Rain", the MythBusters declared the myth "Plausible (but not recommended)", due to the danger in driving a car at high speeds on a wet road even though the myth was completely true.
- Occasionally a myth will be labelled plausible if the described scenario produces a result similar to, but of less intensity than, the one described in the myth.
- The MythBusters are able to recreate or closely recreate the myth's purported outcome with the described circumstances. A Confirmed myth is usually corroborated with documented evidence of actual occurrences.
- If the myth lacks any specific scenarios, the Mythbusters will test every reasonable scenario, and just one scenario is enough for them to confirm the myth (for example, when testing to see whether shooting fish in a barrel was in fact very easy, they could not hit the fish with a bullet, but the pressure distributed by the water was indeed very lethal; therefore, the myth was confirmed—- the fish was killed, though not by the bullet itself). The term "True" was used in the first season.
Warnings and self-censorshipMythBusters places a strong emphasis on viewer safety due to the nature of the myths tested, often dealing with purported household scenarios. All episodes begin with Adam and Jamie giving a disclaimer against attempting the experiments seen on the series; most episodes also feature a second warning halfway through the running time. These disclaimers are not broadcast on Discovery UK, on SBS in Australia, in the Netherlands, or on the Prime and Sky Discovery Channels in New Zealand. Often they are presented with an element of humor, such as Adam wearing a padded suit as Jamie hits him in the chest with a baseball bat, or Jamie explaining that he and Adam are professionals before Adam slides into view and crashes into a barrier while saying, "Don't try this at home!"
The series employs various degrees of safety or courtesy-related censorship. Vulgar language and the names of ingredients used in the production of hazardous materials are usually blocked, but not with the standard bleep. Instead, the show uses sound effects which are humorous or relevant to the myth. Other potentially offensive subject matters are referred to by euphemisms or by strictly scientific terms. In the "Peeing on the Third Rail" myth, the show censored the name of the valve used to release urine from the dummy. Visible labels of chemicals used to produce dangerous materials are blurred and the names of those materials are never mentioned. For example, in the "Hindenburg" special, Adam described how to make a form of thermite by "mixing blur with blur." The show makes it clear that even though they are professionals, in certain scenarios, such as building a bomb, they are required to seek special permission or assistance from the government and are sometimes prohibited from engaging in certain activities. They usually do not show how to assemble explosives nor do they reveal all the ingredients needed to make them.
Many brand names of items used in the show or worn by cast members are also edited out, usually by blurring or covering up the branding with a MythBusters sticker. However, when a brand name is an inherent part of the myth, such as in the Diet Coke and Mentos experiment, the name is shown. (In a rare break from their safety warnings, Adam and Jamie stated on the air that this myth was perfectly safe for viewers to replicate on their own.)
Name lawsuitDuring January 2005, children's author and adventurer Andrew Knight (aka "Bowvayne") commenced legal proceedings in Australia against Beyond Productions, the producer of MythBusters, alleging passing off in relation to the use of the name "Mythbusters". Knight asserted that he had previously organized a team of "Mythbusters" and had used the name continuously since 1988 in relation to pursuing myths, ghosts, monsters, goblins, and other such mysteries in an offbeat manner all around the world. Knight authored a series of self-published children's books under the banner "Mythbusters" in 1991, 1993, and 1996. In February 2007, the Federal Court of Australia dismissed Knight's claims against Beyond Productions.
Popularity and influenceGood Morning America, The Late Show with David Letterman,, NPR's news program All Things Considered, the syndicated radio Bob and Tom Show, and in the movie The Darwin Awards (as two military surplus vendors who sold a JATO rocket to the main character). Skeptic magazine's Daniel Loxton interviewed the duo in an article entitled "Mythbusters Exposed." Hyneman and Savage spoke at the annual convention of the National Science Teachers Association in March 2006, and the California Science Teachers Association named them honorary lifetime members in October 2006. They also are occasionally interviewed for articles by Popular Mechanics and are featured in that magazine's September 2009 issue.
Hyneman and Savage occasionally appear at colleges around the United States to talk about what it's like to be a MythBuster; the show consists of an interview and discussion to give the audience the opportunity to ask the MythBusters questions. The Build Team members have sometimes made appearances in similar capacity. They hold lectures in both collegiate and corporate settings, though the technical colleges tend to be the most enthusiastic. They have spoken at WPI, RPI, MIT, Georgia Tech, Michigan Tech and many others.
Make magazine, and was a featured guest at the 2008, 2009, and 2010 San Mateo Maker Faire. Kari Byron was interviewed on The Late Show, on January 16, 2006.
People involved in survival stories reported in local newscasts have sometimes mentioned previous viewings of MythBusters as an influence to their actions. Twenty-three year old Theresa Booth of St. Martin, Minnesota credits a MythBusters episode for her and her infant child's survival. On April 3, 2007 she skidded off the road into a drainage ditch which had filled with flood water from the Sauk River. In a local newscast, she is described as opening the car door as soon as it entered the water, and credits her watching of the show (specifically, the episode of the Underwater Car myth) for her knowledge of how to survive the accident. On October 19, 2007 in Sydney, Australia, a teenager named Julian Shaw pulled a fainted middle-aged man off the railway tracks near a train station to safety below the platform. He pulled back as the train passed, citing that the "Train Suction" episode affected his response.
On the May 1, 2008 episode of CSI, "The Theory of Everything", Hyneman and Savage appeared in a cameo as observers taking notes during a test to determine whether a taser bolt can set someone on fire under various circumstances (They later tested the same thing on Mythbusters). During August 2008, Hyneman and Savage appeared on the stage of NVISION 08, an event sponsored by Nvidia, having been asked by Nvidia's Creative Director, David Wright to provide a visual demonstration of the power of the GPU vs a CPU. They did this by creating an image of the Mona Lisa with a giant parallel processing paintball gun, setting a world record for largest paintball gun in the process. An encore of the demonstration was given at YouTube Live featuring Hyneman standing in the path of the paintballs wearing a suit of armor.
Hyneman, Savage, and others from the MythBusters crew have appeared at The Amaz!ng Meeting, and subsequently were interviewed by Dr. Steven Novella and the "skeptical rogues" for the podcast The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. On April 16, 2010, Hyneman and Savage received the Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism from the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy.