Ron Howard. Brett Ratner. Akiva Goldsman. The names of these major Hollywood players are not normally associated with documentaries about science. But all three, along with Peter Berg and actors Angela Bassett and Paul Giamatti, have each directed an episode of an upcoming docuseries, “Breakthrough.”
The six-part series examines scientific innovations on a number of fronts including advances in aging, brain chemistry, alternative energy, fighting pandemics and a topic sure to interest those living in the drought-parched state of California, plentiful clean water.
Howard and his Imagine Entertainment partner Brian Grazer are the executive producers of the project, which was developed by National Geographic Channel from an idea that Grazer got from speaking with General Electric’s Beth Comstock in one of his ”curiosity” conversations with leaders and innovators in various fields, which are chronicled in his new book “A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life.”
The first episode, “Fighting Pandemics,” directed by Peter Berg, was screened at a premiere event at the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles earlier this week. Along with harrowing footage of Ebola victims in West Africa, the piece explores preventive measures to combat such devastating and deadly medical crises in the future.
“We wanted to combine science and the best in storytelling and bring it to a global audience,” said Courtney Monroe, CEO of National Geographic Channels, in remarks before the screening. She said the series will be seen in 175 countries in 45 languages.
GE’s Comstock cited Grazer and Howard’s “passion for storytelling,” adding: “A ’30 for 30’ for science was Brian’s concept, to bring science and humanity together in amazing stories.”
“Beth and I hatched this together,” noted Grazer, who first met Comstock when she was CMO of GE, before being promoted to vice chair.
“The facts had to be right, to make documentaries with integrity with Asylum Entertainment,” Howard said, mentioning another partner in the project. He noted that his upcoming episode “The Age of Aging” was particularly relevant to him after making the feature film “Cocoon” 30 years ago.
In her comments, Comstock also mentioned the recent “Back to the Future” day. “There were things featured in the 1985 film including drones, videophones and wearable devices. Hollywood got it right.”
But unlike in the movies, the stars of this show are the scientists working diligently to make the world a better place.
(“Breakthrough” premieres on the National Geographic Channel Sunday, Nov. 1, at 9/8c. More info at natgeotv.com/breakthrough)