Edutainment: Entertaining, Educational Shows on Television
Group Members:Ariel Oxman, Chiles VandenBosche, Erik Koentje, and Ryan McCullough
Table of Contents
Wild Rescues is a television program televising the rescue of animals. The program is shown on Animal Planet, a channel primarily showing animal shows. When people turn on the channel they expect to see programming on animals and when the programming is informative viewers automatically assume they are watching a credible television network. This is because when Americans turn on a news network they expect a credible and accurate news source. Therefore, when Americans turn on a channel on Animals, they expect the network to be credible and accurate as well.
One of the Wild Rescues shows I saw aired November 26, 2000 at 3:00pm. It was about a puppy that got stuck in a sewer pipe. When the owner found out she opened the yellow pages and called the first number that made sense to her, Rescue Rooter. They used plumbing technology to rescue to dog and brought it back to its owner.
On November 19, 2000 at 3:00pm Wild Rescues showed a horse that was stuck on a cliff and could not get out. In order to rescue the horse a helicopter had to be brought in. The first dangerous part was angling the helicopter in a way safe enough to protect the helicopter from the cliffs around it. The second dangerous part was airlifting the horse without hurting any of its ribs or body parts. After successfully achieving this the horse was reunited with its owner.
On both occasions, a show on an animal channel was portraying rescue "missions." In neither case was the scientific method utilized. With regards to politically charged issues the show showed exactly how our society handles animal rights. Animals are expected to be treated fairly and Wild Rescues showed exactly how animals in America are taken care of. The ultimate motivation of the producers of the show seemed to be entertainment purposes. On the Animal Planet channel many of the shows are geared towards factually representing the ways animals act and more scientific data. However, Wild Rescues is not one of those shows and failed to provide valid scientific data.
The other show was a National Geographic Explorer titled, "Battle for Paradise." The focus of the show was British Columbia and the continuing beauty that exists. The natural phenomenon that remains and the relationship between nature and animals was the primary focus of the show. It is very hard to tell how factual the information was since most viewers are uninformed about the topic. As a result, most viewers take what the National Geographic Society portrays to be scientific. The information it portrayed was science and focused more on that than on entertaining the audience.
National Geographic was a better program than Wild Rescues with regards to the quality of science portrayed. Wild Rescues was distracting in that it focused primarily on entertaining the audience instead of educating the audience on scientific issues. National Geographic Explorer is a good show for educational purposes and is a trustworthy show.
The Crocodile Hunter, shown on Animal Planet, is an entertaining show which is also supposedly educational. The show features Steve Irwin, the director of the Australia Zoo, and his wife Terri. There is no doubt that both are experts in their fields. Terri ran a wildlife rehabilitation center and worked in an emergency veterinary hospital. Steve not only runs a zoo, but has spent his whole life working with animals in various ways. However, there is no mention of whether or not either of them has any formal educational background in the life sciences or animal science field, so you cannot accurately call them scientists. The show itself depicts Steve as the wild, eccentric, devil-may-care type. He uses his dangerous antics and wild enthusiasm to keep the viewers interested. Factually I'm sure the information is correct, but there is very little of it to begin with. The most common fact he uses is "this animal could easily kill me with one bite", but aside from that he just chases them and tells you a small bit about the animal's habitat and some small facts about the animal itself. The show is meant to be educational, and draws a very large range of viewers, from children to adults, but it doesn't come very close to portraying the scientific method. I'm sure you could consider it scientific since you do learn a little about animal science, but the show is much more geared towards the entertaining not scientific end of the spectrum. The website for the show is very good, go to http://www.animal.discovery.com/crochunter/crochunter.html
The Magic School Bus, brought to you by Scholastic is a good example of educational television that has a specific target audience. The show uses songs and funny characters to help kids learn about various topics. The information given is not exactly complex, the show is geared towards young children, so the information is often very basic so that they can understand it. This is an excerpt from the website: "Wahoo! Did you know that Scholastic's The Magic School Bus won this year's "Outstanding Educational Program" award from the Annenberg Public Policy Center? APPC is a really cool organization that each year studies the quality and quantity of children's television (so they get to watch a lot of TV!). This year, they judged STMSB to be one of the best quality children's shows on the air and one of only three shows that "successfully... serves the educational needs of America's children." That's pretty impressive, and after seeing the show I think it portrays science better than most shows for adults do. They've done shows about rainforests, flight, beehives, etc. They go into some details, but not too much, but the facts they do present are quite accurate, and interesting enough to hold the kids' attention. There was even an episode that explained the scientific method. Although they have shows about topics that are not scientific, when they do present science they do a good job of keeping it as accurate as possible. The website for the show is http://www.scholastic.com/magicschoolbus/index.htm.
"In Search of..." is an intermittent series of shows about various topics that people wonder about. Many of the topics appeared to be not very scientific in nature, but I managed to watch 2 that most definitely were; one about fire ants and the other about killer bees. Both of these shows gave very interesting scientific facts, but did not accurately portray the scientific method. Both shows were about the attempts to impede the progress of the insects. However, it appeared as though the scientists involved were taking stab in the dark process at eliminating the pests. The scientists would try out an idea and hope that it would work. Although I am sure that it wasn't so, it seemed as though the scientists were guessing, rather than trying to reason out something that would have a better chance of succeeding.
Both shows were entertaining in the gruesome way that much of media is entertaining these days. They both supplied statistics for the number of people killed by the insects. Unfortunately, these were reruns of old shows, without any update information, so there was no way of knowing how close to today's numbers they were. In the killer bees episode, there was also some enterainment in seeing a beekeeper interacting with some killer bees (while wearing a beesuit of course!). It was interesting to see how quickly they swarmed over him.
The third show that I watched was an episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy. It contained a lot of interesting facts, but was definitely geared more towards schoolchildren. Much like The Magic School Bus, it gives a lot of facts that appear to be accurate. In addition, Bill Nye also shows ways of doing some of the fun stuff yourself, and explains why it works. The episode that I viewed did not go into the scientific method, but gave a lot of facts in a fun way, that is, it would have been fun had I been in the target audience.
Overall, I'd say that Bill Nye seemed to be much more educational than the shows that were oriented towards adults. Also, it seemed that it would be more entertaining for the target audience than "In Search Of" would be. I think that "In Search Of" and Bill Nye appeared to be reliable sources of scientific fact, but Bill Nye was more definitive where "In Search Of" left questions open to thought.
Instead of handling each program individually, they will be examined on the same level. The three programs that I will reference can all be viewed on the Discovery Channel. Also, the three programs all follow the same criteria and have the same formats. Volcano: Go to Ground Zero, Great Quakes, and Sunstorms are the three programs that I will be referring to in this review of education television.
The Discovery Channel is viewed by many people as the authority of educational television. They set the standard for other channels to follow in terms of content, science, and entertainment that should be used in a program. Of the three programs that I saw, all followed the same format by showing leading experts in the field with their view on the situations at hand. None of the shows that were viewed really presented any controversial topics in the field of science.The target audiences of these programs are focused on an adult crowd with ranging with prior knowledge of the topics. The scientific method was addressed in these shows by presenting a theory and then backing up their theory with solid evidence. These shows unlike some other scientific based shows are not based on pseudoscience, but rather more scientific matter. Great Quakes showed some models and graphs to help illustrate the scientific points that it was trying to demonstrate to the audience. All of these programs skillfully used entertainment to capture the audience's attention, but provided useful science based explanations to prove their point. All three shows presented factual information and as far as my scientific background reaches all information provided is plausible.