'Mythbusters' reveal new format, explain cast changes
Mythbusters fans, here are the answers to your long-simmering questions: What’s the deal with those cast departures? How will the show’s format change now that co-hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman are on their own? What myths will be tested in the upcoming season? What’s the one myth the team regrets? How long will Mythbusters continue? And are Adam and Jamie still really not friends?
Below, co-host Savage gives EW a candid and thoughtful exclusive interview. We also have a clip from the new season, in which the guys take on a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
But first, we rang the show’s longtime executive producer, Dan Tapster. Last August, Mythbusters fans were stunned to learn that longtime supporting players GrantImahara, Kari Byron and Tory Belleci were exiting the show. Sources say the departures were the result of a salary renegotiation with the supporting cast. Keep in mind that a show’s talent cost tends to rise each year, and the 11-year-old Mythbusters is one of the longest-running series on cable—and with a larger regular returning cast than most unscripted series. (If Mythbusters were a cop drama on CBS, some characters would have been “written out” years ago by financial necessity.) In this case, the departures were also viewed as a creative opportunity to refresh the show.
“We were very keen for [Imahara, Byron and Belleci] to be a part of the show, we are massive fans of theirs, and what they did over 10 years was phenomenal,” Tapster says. “There were negotiations, and based on those negotiations, they opted out. It’s a shame for them. It’s a shame for us. But it gave us the opportunity to reinvent the show, which it kind of needed.”
The new season, which premieres Jan. 10, “is probably the one I’m most proud of,” Tapster says. “It’s got a new look, a new vibe, and it’s become more educational again.” Imahara, Byron and Belleci, meanwhile, are continuing to talk with Discovery and Tapster’s production company about new potential projects. “I’m equally excited about what the future holds for them and for Mythbusters,“Tapster says.
For more, EW got on the phone with Savage, catching him while he was on the road for the Mythbusters: Behind the Myths multi-city tour:
EW: Is the show still fun for you?
Adam Savage: It is. Like anything that you do, where you try to achieve some excellence, it’s also really hard, but that’s what we signed up for. It’s hard to tell these stories. The evolution of how we tell the stories is really evidently watching the show over the arc of 14 seasons.
I’m sure people come up to you and pitch myths all the time. Has anyone come up with an idea during the tour that has promise?
There’s a viral video that came out recently in which some Japanese girls deep-fried shrimp in like 10 seconds by firing the shrimp from a cannon. Everybody has been forwarding it to me and people out on the road have been suggesting it. It’s definitely something we want to test.
Are there other types of myths that you no longer want to do?
Yeah. Electricity myths are a nightmare. At the beginning of the show it was like, “Let’s do some electrocution myths!” But electricity is incredibly difficult to work with, televisually. When people get electrocuted, they don’t have smoke coming out of their ears like movies would lead you to be believe. It’s much less thrilling. So at this point I have an embargo on electricity stories. And there are the openings and closings of the show, the blueprints that we do. Those are very structured and mannerist conversations that actually get more difficult as we go on. We strive to make them as quick as possible.
After all these years, expository conversations can feel a little stagey.
They do. You don’t want to ask the audience to sit through the same thing a million times. You want to subvert their expectations.
I know this is sensitive, but I must ask: Can you talk about the cast departures and the reason behind that?
Kari, Grant, and Tory are good friends of ours and we love those guys. We didn’t want to see them go. The actual reasons for them going—while we have certain understandings of what went on, that’s a contract discussion between Discovery and those guys. We don’t know much about how that actually went. But as the show evolves over the years, you do have to make changes, and you do want to keep it fresh. In the very beginning, we were barely doing any of the actual storytelling, we just had cameras following us. It was very loose. As Jamie and I got more interested in the job, and really took ownership of the show, those stories got more complex. In the middle seasons, there’s a steady erosion of [the construction] process, of actually making stuff.
One of the biggest changes of Kari, Grant, and Tory’s departure is that Jamie and I now have to produce all 42-and-a-half minutes of the episode, but we don’t have twice as much time to shoot it. That means the mental work for the show doubled. It’s not like we can shoot a sequence and go, “Well, they’re going to cut to Kari and Grant on this one, so we can just wrap this here.” Every sequence transition has to be really tight. Then, of course, because nothing goes according to plan, there’s tons more [footage] covering the mistakes and the difficulties of getting stuff up and running. There’ll be times when I specifically will not engage with a certain piece of information—like, I won’t read [a result] until the camera is rolling—in order to see what happens. I’m not going to pre-educate myself. I’m going to walk in cold and see what occurs. That makes the story a lot more dynamic.
I think when fans watch the show for years and see a group, they start to—perhaps unfairly—think of the show in family terms rather than in business terms. When that “family” is fractured, it’s jarring. Were you surprised by how upset fans got?
I wasn’t. Do you remember that viral video about the honey badger? The guy who narrated that, Randall, he’s a friend of Mythbusters. At Comic-Con a couple of years ago we thought it would be really great to cut a trailer for the new season of Mythbusters, but get Randall to narrate it. We thought that would be hilarious—and it was hilariou—but I made the mistake of introducing the segment by being faux-serious, saying, “We’re toying with a new narrator for Mythbusters,” and the crowd watched the whole trailer angry! There was not a lot of applause and I had to say that was a joke. The fans were so protective about the structure. You’re totally right—any change, even a change in the narrator, was something that they considered totally not okay. When we were looking down the barrel, as it were, of Kari, Grant, and Tory leaving, Jamie and I totally expected a vigorous response. It’s sad. I don’t like to disappoint the fans. I don’t like to make them angry. But I really feel like when they see what we’ve been producing this year, they’ll see a program that we still love to make.
You probably hate being asked about this—but even today, many years after a story on this topic first came out, when I Google your names the first search suggestion Google prompts is, “Jamie and Adam don’t like each other.” The second is “Jamie Adam not friends.” I read the past coverage where you explain that you really respect each other as co-workers, but just aren’t friendship-compatible off screen, and that you’ve never even been to dinner together. And that seems clear and understandable. But has that evolved or changed over the years?
Absolutely. It’s not something I mind talking about because I actually think there’s very useful information there. It is true that we’re not friends. We know as much or more about each other than even close friends do because we’ve been at the center of this show for the last 12 years. That, again, is informed by a deep amount of respect. Whatever I think of the way Jamie wants to attack a project, which may drive me nuts—”Why would you build it that way?“—I also know that if I walk out of the room, Jamie would complete that project by the end of the day. He knows the same thing about me. So we know that we have the respect for each other that informs us that the job will get done regardless.
One thing that also informs that respect is that Jamie and I are presented with lots of difficulties, opportunities, challenges, conflicts. We disagree about the small details every single day—on almost on every single detail. But we don’t really disagree about the big stuff. Everyone in the world wants us to “bust myths” about their product. We’ve turned down just gobs of money to not do that because we have our integrity. We only get to spend that [integrity] coin once. We don’t disagree about that. And I’m so glad we never disagree about turning that stuff down. That means, ultimately, the conflict between us is relatively minor. And not only is it minor, but when someone is always checking and challenging your work, it brings an integrity to the work when you’re going to have to defend the way you want to do something. There are multiple ways to skin any cat—hey, that’s something we’ve never done on the show.
“Is there truly more than one way to skin a cat? And if so, how many ways are there?”
Exactly. That’ll be one we’ll never do!
Speaking of animal myths, what do you think of Discovery’s Eaten Alive special?
I did not watch the Eaten Alive special. I don’t have cable on the [tour] bus. I was fascinated reading about his snake-proof suit and nervous about his safety knowing what I know about the power of those snakes. I used to have snakes years ago—Jamie and I both did, weirdly enough. Even a small snake has a giant amount of power. I didn’t see the specs on the suit he built but it gave me confidence that it could be used with impunity.
You mentioned rejecting offers to “bust” product myths. How did you feel about Grant doing McDonalds myth-busting commercials?
Well, I’m sad that there’s been so much backlash against him. I love Grant. He is a person with incredible integrity. The amount of social media backlash I think has been unwarranted and it makes me sad.
Have there been any myths that you regret doing?
Only one. It was way back, I think in the second season. Like I said, we’re always trying to figure out different places to take the show. One of our producers did a segment with Kari, Grant, and Tory about pyramid power—”Will placing your shaving razor underneath the pyramid actually keep it sharp?” That falls in the realm of “magic.” That’s not Mythbusters. With anything that falls into that realm, you’re trying to prove a negative because you can’t ever have a control against which you can measure anything. If you go out to look for Bigfoot and you don’t find him, you’ve only proven one half of the equation—that you don’t know how to find Bigfoot. While there are certainly branches of science that devote themselves to looking for things that haven’t been found yet, Mythbusters is a show grounded in experimental physics. We always want to build a control against which to compare our potential final experiment.
One episode that’s breaking new ground is the upcoming Simpsons episode. How did that come about?
I became friends with several of The Simpsons writer/producers. They’re awesome. We just love those guys. Meeting people whose work you admire that you become friends with is one of the great side benefits of this business. The Simpsons spoofed Jamie and I [two years ago]. We got to go down to their studio and record. That felt like a bucket list item more than almost anything we’ve experienced doing [our] show. Then there was a very contentious conversation when we were in a story meeting. “Are there [potential Simpsons myths]?” Several people were like, “This is a cartoon! What can you do with this?” We looked through many, many different stories and many different bits of The Simpsons, but I think that we found stuff that really is entertaining and not totally outside the realm of physics—unlike, say, Wile E Coyote stuff might be. We reached out [to the Simpsons team], and they were totally into it.
We set out to test Bart throwing the cherry bomb into the toilet that makes all toilets in the school act like geysers. Then there’s one in which Homer’s house is about to be destroyed by a wrecking ball and Homer places his body between the wrecking ball and the house to keep his house from getting destroyed. This was maybe one of the more complex engineering challenges we’ve ever had on the show because if you’re going to assess damage to a house from a wrecking ball, the first thing you realize you need is two houses. You want to show a wrecking ball hitting the house without Homer, and then you want to show a wrecking ball hitting the house with Homer.
We have a researcher, Eric, who is just a genius at finding things that should be impossible to find. When we needed 60,000 ping pong balls to raise a boat from the bottom of Monterey Bay, he found us 60,000 for free. We put Eric on finding us a house in which we could say take a wrecking ball to two of its sides, a house that was about to be destroyed, and we could not find one. In all of California, and we expanded our search to Oregon, Arizona, and Nevada, and really couldn’t. It’s very difficult to find things that are about to be destroyed. We ended up building our two houses out at a landfill. We built two replicas of the Springfield house. Then, of course, we had to make a Homer—this was the first time we made a non-human crash-test dummy because Homer is human, but he’s also a cartoon character, which means his proportions are totally not human. It’s a very elaborate process that we went through using three or four different technologies that we’ve used over the years in special effects. But the weirdness of standing next to a 5’11’’ tall Homer Simpson proportioned correctly to the cartoon in real life, it’s really peculiar. I can’t describe it any other way than that.
Can you tease some of the other myths that you’ll be taking on?
We also delve into an episode about The A-Team, which was one of my favorites. It’s very funny. The A-Team was always getting stranded in places, and then building elaborate Rube Goldberg ways to get out of those places. We chose one in which they’re stranded in a lumber yard and make a weapon with what they have in the lumber yard to defeat the bad guys. The standard way Mythbusters would do that would be to just build the weapon that we see in the show and see what it’s efficacy is. When we watched the episode, the device was so removed from reality that we felt like we might be able to do it better. So we built the device. We tried everything we could to make it work. Then we also decided to take a circumstantial approach to the story, which is looking at the situation they were in. So we asked: “What if we were The A-Team?” Then we set up a “lumber yard” in which Jamie and I were “stranded” and all we had at our disposal were the things that the A-Team had. Then we made a weapon. It functions totally differently than theirs. It’s like taking a new weird subtle way to tell the story. We did two episodes this season that were like that.
The second one was there’s this famous story about a crazy Frenchman with [a Citroen]—a very famous post-war, French car. Weighs about 300 pounds. It has a tiny nine-horsepower engine. This guy was driving this car and he got stranded in the desert with two wheels shattered. He supposedly turned the car into a motorcycle to escape. We had pictures of the device that he built and Jamie and I decided not to look at them. We thought, “Let’s place ourselves in isolation with just this car and just the tools he has and let’s see what we can come up with.” It’s one of my favorite things we’ve ever done … We also tackled the finale of Breaking Bad—the M-60 in [Walter White’s] trunk. We didn’t test that the first time we did a Breaking Bad special. I don’t think it had aired yet. Boy, it is really scary making an M-60 fire without a person on it.
Are there any other pop-culture titles that you haven’t gotten permission to tackle that you want to do?
That’s a really good question. Yes! For some reason, we can’t get permission to use any of the footage from Die Hard 2. I’ve always wanted to test Bruce Willis’ [ejection from the cockpit of a] C-130 grenade party on a frozen runway. That’s been on the list forever! We’ve just never gotten the permission to test it, or there’s some reason that the Die Hard 2 people don’t want to give us the footage. By the way, testing Indiana Jones was a dream come true. One of the other ways in which we’ve really re-jiggered the show … has been the advent of really high-resolution, cinema quality, prime-lensed cameras for under $1,000 dollars. We replaced a bunch of our GoPro cameras this season with Blackmagic cameras. We end up with a much more cinematic look. So when we’re doing stuff like the Breaking Bad episode, or Indiana Jones, we can actually film it with cameras that give it a real depth of field, even though it’s hokey-jokey because we’re doing it on a shoestring budget and very little amounts of time. Our camera department is just having a blast with that.
You’ve said before that you can imagine doing this show pretty much indefinitely. Is that still the case? Do you ever think of ending it, and, if so, is there a stunt you’d want to end on?
Well, look, everything has its bell curve, and so will Mythbusters. But the curve has continued to prove wider than anyone could have possibly imagined. We’ve filmed for 20,000 hours now and made 250-some-odd hours of television. It just exceeded any possible expectations. I will keep doing the show until they lock the doors on us. As far as what it’s going to look like in the end, I believe that will involve an explosion. Jamie and I toured Australia and New Zealand this summer, and an Australian radio host introduced us with my favorite introduction ever. He said: “Mythbusters is a trojan horse of reason hiding behind a thin veil of explosives.”
For the series finale, you should finally get to set off a nuclear weapon.
Yeah! Something like that. Sure! That’s a great idea.
We promised you a new clip! Here’s Mythbusters revisiting Indiana Jones:
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