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How the Science Channel is rebooting MythBusters with a new team

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The key is team chemistry

Image: Jason Elias

MythBusters is back. Tonight, the Science Channel is resurrecting its reality show where two hosts test out a bunch of urban legends, usually with a hefty dose of science, engineering, and explosions thrown in.

The original MythBusters ran for 14 seasons with hosts Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, and a secondary build team of Tory Belleci, Kari Byron, Grant Imahara, as well as Scottie Chapman, and Jessi Combs for a couple of seasons. That incarnation of the show ended in 2015, with Savage and Hyneman closing out the show with a special “send-off” season. The original MythBusters have since moved on to other projects: Belleci, Byron, and Imahara now host The White Rabbit Project on Netflix; Hyneman is working on a bunch of neat gadgets; and Savage films videos for Tested, cosplays, and is on the road with a live show Brain Candy.

But even while the original MythBusters was winding down, it was clear that the topic and format was a durable one. Marc Etkind, the Science Channel’s general manager, says that they recognized the appeal of the show and “made sure that the show had the DNA” of the original, bringing back much of the original crew to work on it. “Jaime and Adam are in ways not replaceable — they’re legends,” Etkind notes. “And we recognized that we couldn’t put just two people in there to play [the pair].”

Adam and Jamie were engaging and entertaining hosts, and this is a type of show that relies heavily on the charisma of its leads. Audiences didn’t just tune in to see the two blow something up: they showed up to watch their antics. (Ironically, Adam and Jamie aren’t close friends.) Picking the right hosts to head up a revival of the show would be key.

To do this, the Science Channel turned to a format that relies on people tuning in to watch antics: a reality television competition. It launched Search for the Next MythBusters, in early 2016, which pitted 15 candidates against one another for the opportunity to host the show.

Photo by Jason Elias

That show ended, producing the two hosts who will bring MythBusters back: Jon Lung and Brian Louden. Etkind says the reality show put contestants through the paces to make sure that they not only had the right skills, but the right charisma. “We wanted to make sure that they’re their own people,” he explained. “They’re not acting, they’re not trying to be anybody else, but they do bring their own skills, talents and sensibilities.”

The two do bring considerable skills to the table. Following high school, Louden became an EMT, and later a paramedic. He went to college, where he studied biology and authored several peer-reviewed papers (“Molecular Typing Methods for Tracking Foodborne Microorganisms,” “Use of Blue Agar CAS Assay for Siderophore Detection,” and “Characterization of Antimicrobial Resistance in Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium isolates from Food Animals”), before moving on to own a bar and work as a drilling engineer. “I’m sort of a backyard, do-it-all type of guy.” Lung says that he’s been building things since “I could fold a piece of paper.” He went to college to study engineering, and worked as a product and graphic designer in New York.

Photo by Jason Elias

Lung acknowledged that they have big shoes to fill. “Brian and I have been huge fans of the show since day one,” he told The Verge in a phone call. “We’re still massive fans of the show.” He explained that they’ve been working with much of the original crew to produce a show that fans will recognize.

“What people love about the show is STEM entertainment,” says Louden. “A lot of times, when we have science, engineering, and tech on TV, it’s either grandiose and fake for entertainment, or it’s dry.”

“What made us fans of the original series, was them making engineering and design so approachable,” Lung says. “They make mistakes, you learn with them, and that was the biggest appeal to me. So I think we bring the same thing to the table. We want to make it approachable and fun at the same time.”

Photo by Jason Elias

Longtime fans of the show will certainly recognize the format. There are big builds to test out the myths. Will your car’s airbags kill you if you put your feet on the dashboard? If you kill someone with a sword, will they really remain in place for a second like in the movies? They test these, and others, in the first couple of episodes, along with some explosions, crashes, sword-wielding robots, and more. Even the show’s iconic narrator, Robert Lee, returns to provide the show’s voice-overs.

Lung and Louden have quite a bit of chemistry on-screen. While Adam and Jaime both seemed to get along just fine for the cameras, these two seem to be fast friends, joking and bantering while they conduct their tests. Etkind says that the pair got to know each other during the show, and that even other Search contestants will make guest appearances on the show, because they all bonded during its run.

While this rebooted MythBusters looks almost identical to its predecessor, Etkind doesn’t rule out that it won’t change as Lung and Louden make it their own. “We’re never going to lose track of the basic premise of the show,” he explains. “But what’s exciting to me is that when the show started 14 years ago, we all weren’t carrying cellphones. We didn’t have drones, or use computer modeling the way we do now. There's so much more that they can do now to test myths.”