Steaks, ninjas and moon landings highlight the latest episodes of Discovery Channel hit "Mythbusters," which starts a run of new episodes tonight (9 ET/PT).
Eclectic topics, to be sure. But that's precisely what's made science-based "Mythbusters" enduring and endearing to viewers. With an appeal that spreads far beyond laboratory geeks and pre-teens who enjoy watching stuff being blown up, "Mythbusters" was Discovery's top-performing series during the first quarter of 2008 and has been among its most popular shows since 2005.
The first of 11 new episodes aims at beef lovers as hosts Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage do what they do best — use pyrotechnics and explosives, this time to determine their suitability as steak tenderizers.
Separately, the show's "build team" of Kari Byron, Grant Imahara and Tory Belleci conduct an equally thorough series of experiments in an abandoned suburban subdivision to determine what kind of driver gets better gas mileage: stressed-out or relaxed?
Hyneman and Savage — special-effects experts with top Hollywood pedigrees — have been using science to entertain TV audiences since 2003, determining the validity of more than 300 urban legends, myths, folklore, sayings and oddities. Can you actually shoot fish in a barrel? (The shock wave from the bullet kills the fish.) Use chili peppers to repel sharks? (Nope.) Find a needle in a haystack? (Possibly.)
"The show is entertainment, but the science part is intended to be thought-provoking," says Hyneman, noting a doozy of an episode Aug. 27 examining the possibility that the government staged the moon landings of 1969 and the early 1970s.
Frequently, the pair will conduct exhaustive experiments to prove — or disprove — a point. Tonight's meat-tenderizing procedures include military explosives, laundry dryers, 40-foot-long air cannons and testing devices similar to the government's.
Yet part of what makes "Mythbusters" a success is the interaction of the low-key Hyneman with the more playful, excitable Savage, a former child actor. The pair's popularity has earned appearances on talk shows and cameos, including CBS hit "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."
"Adam and I are very different, but we're both fascinated with the stuff we're exposed to," says Hyneman, 51. "One thing we have in common is we're intensely curious about everything."
There's no shortage of ideas to explore. "Technology, science and engineering is a bottomless pit," Hyneman says.
About one-third of "Mythbusters" experiments are viewer-generated, says Savage, 41.
"Fan interaction is super-important," says Savage, who estimates that about 30% of "Mythbusters'" ideas come from fans. "There's plenty of backlog to fill 60 to 70 shows."
One likely to be explored; replicating the curving bullet shots in the current Angelina Jolie thriller, "Wanted." Says Savage, "We've been inundated from fans telling us, 'You gotta do that.' "