Sunday, September 16, 2012

SDCC 2012: Chewing on Science Channel's "Dark Matters" with John Noble

To Red Dot Diva's knowledge, almost everyone who watches J.J. Abram's cult-series "Fringe" adores the character, Walter Bishop.

Off-kilter and utterly charming, Walter Bishop the brilliant scientist, is brought to life by the impressive talent of Aussie actor, John Noble.

However, this article is not about "Fringe" but about Science Channel's anthology series, "Dark Matters", which incidentally re-enacts freaky and mostly unethical scientific experiments that were actually carried out in past eras. Tales of creepy experiments like human-animal breeding, brainwashing, Frankenstein-like reanimations (Ahh! zombies!!) are all par for the course. Not unlike those featured in the "Fringe" episodes at all. And John Noble is the series' host.

Being a science freak and someone who loves morbid twisted stories, "Dark Matters" is just right up Red Dot Diva's alley. So, when Red Dot Diva got news that Science Channel was able to slot her in for the "Dark Matters" press conference at Comic-Con, she couldn't stop squeeing for days.

What is John Noble really like in person? She didn't quite know what to expect.

Right on schedule in the afternoon of Day 1, John Noble arrived together with Debbie Myers, General Manager of Science Channel at the press room located at Hilton Bayfront. Dressed preppily-casual in a navy blue sweater and pair of jeans, he greeted everyone warmly with a big smile on his face just as he stepped through the door. He was taller and more elegant than Red Dot Diva had imagined.

But that voice. Oh, that familiar, resonant voice of his. Wonderful Vocal Biceps. To hear it in person was like savouring a piece of luscious dark chocolate. Mmmm...

John then strode (it was as if he floated) to the front of the room where he spotted a "Dark Matters" poster lying on Red Dot Diva's press table. "Is this the poster?", he asked with a hint of excitement. "I haven't seen it yet!"

And then gamely posed holding the poster for press folks to take pics. *Swoon* The charm was very nobly done.

With the press room all warmed up now, both John and Debbie settled in their seats ready to share with us on what they like about being involved in the show.

John said that personally, he liked some of the more serious stories set in the past where people were treated unjustly and horribly in experiments. "I like those stories because I think they are important stories to tell, and to be reminded about," he said. "Then, there were some very weird stories, like the one about the killer song. An endearing song, and people listen to it and would commit suicide. And it's probably unique at that time when people were very repressed. Of course, music has an effect on us. I use music as a mood-changer. So that was a really fascinating story."

And what was the most shocking story to him, someone asked. John tried to step nimbly around the question by not giving out too much spoilers. "Well, there was a particular story set in the United States. What happened was a group of men in Alabama suffered from syphilis, which at that time was rife throughout the world, and were subjected to a experiment by the government. But here’s the terrible part... that even when penicillin was invented and could cure it, those people weren’t treated. The experiment wanted to study the long term deterioration caused by syphilis. That makes me feel sick… And the truth didn't come up until very recently. And only then, finally, the victims and their families were compensated.

(Red Dot Diva says go Google it and you can read more about the horrible Tuskegee syphilis experiment that ended only in 1972.)

While the subject of science turns some people off as being too high-brow or difficult to understand, Debbie Myers stressed that the network is aiming to show that science can be accessible. With "Dark Matters" where there is also some form of story-telling, the Science Channel hopes to broaden their core audience and to show that most of these experiments usually started out with good intentions. But more importantly, she hopes the shows help to initiate and spur more discussions about ethics and science.

It was then that "Dark Matters" executive producer Rocky Collins (another handsome silver fox!!) joined the panel. He apologized for being late, giving the excuse that he was kidnapped by anime characters. Haha.

Rocky jumped in to the previous science question and about the current attitudes of people being cynical about science. For instance, why are new science studies coming up with results that debunking those from previous studies, and so on.

"Science is a process," Rocky explained. "Every story is about a process. Somebody was right; somebody else was wrong. There's this constant argument that goes on. And that's one of the reasons why the Science channel's motto is 'Question Everything'. I think that's the basic purpose of science - to encourage that questioning attitude as part of what it is trying aiming to do."

The panel discussions about the romanticism of science and listening to John talk about his interest in reading was getting to be quite interesting at this point. So Red Dot Diva decided to pose all three a rather deep question:

"With all these experiments that are featured in the show, in your opinion, do great minds encompass some form of insanity?"

There was a pause as all three looked thoughtful. Finally, John broke the silence saying, "That's a great question, and the answer is.... it is a semantic question as to what is genius, and what is insanity."

Have a listen to this audio clip of John's complete reply to Red Dot Diva's question.

After which, he flashed that "Walter Bishop smile" of his that made her swoon a little more.

Awhile later, Rocky added his thoughts about the thin line between genius and insanity, and said this question reminded him about a story they were doing on the Unabomber. A well-known Harvard psychologist had been using techniques to craft a brutal mental experiment on students including the 16-year-old math genius Ted Kaczynski, whom became the Unabomber later in life. Did this psychologist have some responsibility in creating the Unabomber? It seems to be an open question but it is the type of question that should be asked.

Someone from the press room wondered that since John Noble seems to appear like a science expert these days, does he get asked a lot on hardcore science questions like Einstein's relativity? With an amused smile, John replies, "Not really. I'm not a mathematician or a physicist. I don't have a clue how they determine the mass of a black hole. But I *understand* it. I'm good at the big picture, but not the techniques of how to get there. I'm interested enough to learn more and talk about these topics."

As to regards to what kind of stories the production team would choose to feature, Rocky gave an example about how he really wanted to do a story about spontaneous combustion, but could not find a single story with enough evidence to it. "The way the show is made, it is partially a dramatic story. It is a 12-minute story basically. We can't cover a decade, or five different locations. We have to narrow the number of people involved in the story. There needs to have some form of practical story-telling."

"No subject is off limits," Rocky emphasized. "But if we can't find the right way to tell it as a story within our framework, then we'll think of something else."

John then piped in cheerfully, "Mind you, 'Fringe' *does* have spontaneous combustion." And everyone laughed.

But with its borderline sensationalized story-telling style, one press person challenged if "Dark Matters" was actually catering to the tween crowd. Are they the core audience the channel was targetting for?

"I want the science-minded," Debbie said. "And that comes in all shapes or sizes and all ages. So our sweet spot is 25 to 54. But our responsibility is to try to hook them young. We don't sit around and figure out how we are going to make a tween show. But what we want to do, is to put it into the context of entertainment so that once they come in, they will be thoroughly entertained and they are thinking. So, I think the show is doing its job. I want to capture the science enthusiast in all of us."

Hey, if the show gets people to work their brain cells a little more and to 'Question Everything',  Red Dot Diva is all for it!

After the panel, Red Dot Diva took the chance to sweetly ask John for an autograph. "Of course!" he beamed, with that trademark smile of his. She also managed to grab a pic with the famous gentleman, his hand ever-so casually wrapped round her waist. An awesome moment that she will always treasure.

Oh, and by the way, that voice of his? It is still decadently resonating in Red Dot Diva's brain. Dark Matters indeed. Mmmm.


The Science Channel's programmes are marketed under the Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific banner that is available as one of the Starhub cable channels here.  However, Red Dot Diva is not sure when "Dark Matters" will be screened here or in this region.

Season 2 of "Dark Matters" has already aired in the United States on the Science Channel. Its next brand new episode will air on November 21st. More information on the series can be found here.

For Asian viewers who are curious, here's a Season 2 trailer:


Thank you to the Science channel for extending the press con invitation to Red Dot Diva. Very much appreciated!

No comments:

Post a Comment