'MythBusters' is the stuff of legends, tall tales

ByGary Strauss, USA TODAY

— -- Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman have the kind of jobs that many science geeks and teenage boys would lust for.

Forget about mixing Diet Coke and Mentos. As hosts of Discovery Channel's MythBusters (season premiere tonight, 9 ET/PT), Savage and Hyneman have torched, sunk, shot, blown up and done just about anything else conceivable to examine urban legends, rumors, pop-culture theories, tall tales, MacGyver-like gimmicks and Hollywood stunts.

"For us, it's got to have at least a grain of truth to it, some grounding in reality," Hyneman says.

They have gone from the extreme (launching exploding 50-gallon water heaters) to the mundane (using phone booths to determine whether superheroes can indeed change into their superhero costumes in such tight spaces).

The pair figured that ideas would quickly be exhausted after a handful of shows. But as Mythbusters— initially pitched to the cable channel as "Tall Tales or True" — begins its sixth season and nears its 100th episode, the ideas keep coming, many from fans who have accorded Savage and Hyneman rock-star status. They've appeared on talk shows such as Late Show With David Letterman and NPR's AllThings Considered, headlined the annual National Science Teachers Association confab and lectured on the college circuit.

Part of the appeal is the duo's dynamic. Hyneman typically plays straight man to Savage. "I'm calm and methodical. Adam is more animated and energetic — more of a ham," Hyneman says. "The interplay is a powerful tool for exploring."

MythBusters' popularity has also led to fatter production budgets and bigger, more elaborate experiments.

In this season's first two episodes, Savage and Hyneman delve into James Bond and the authenticity of 007's film gadgetry. They'll try to replicate some of the stunts that thrilled Ian Fleming fans, such as the flying speedboat stunt from 1973's Live and Let Die. The stunt required hasty construction of a ramp in the middle of a California lake, a powerboat and precision planning. "While the results are often spectacular, the big thing for us is the process," Hyneman says.

Upcoming episodes feature an examination of the long-held notion that cockroaches would survive a nuclear explosion. Another tests the viability of a lead balloon.

"Trying to make a balloon out of lead — obviously, there are some problems," Hyneman says. "Even though it doesn't involve explosions, this is one of our favorite (challenges). It should be simple. But the length we had to go to make this happen was pretty extraordinary."

Along with Dirty Jobs, MythBusters ranks among Discovery Channel's most popular series; last season's January opener attracted more than 2.6 million viewers. "I hate to use the word rabid, but (the show's fans) are vested and loyal," says Discovery programming executive Mary Donohue.

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