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There are only two things on this planet that are capable of surviving an extinction-level event: cockroaches and Bill Nye's bowtie collection. "Bowties don't wear out, man," the legendary Science Guy remarked during a conversation with SYFY WIRE at San Diego Comic-Con today. "You have to tie them a lot to get them to wear out."
The veteran television host, creator, and storyteller swung by the hustle and bustle of San Diego's Gaslamp District to discuss his new Peacock docu-series series — The End is Nye (arriving on the platform in late August) — which explores six apocalyptic scenarios and what humanity could realistically do about them.
"Society has many things to be anxious about," said Nye, who co-created and executive produced the show, in addition to serving as host. "It has been shown that when things are going well in the world, we all watch comedies. But when things are anxiety-making, then we watch Contagion and disaster movies [like] The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure, and what have you. So we made six, one-hour disaster movies, because people, during these anxious times, that's the kind of programming they watch. It’s a surprising thing, perhaps, and the point is to get viewers to realize that we can do something about these things that make us anxious. We can do something about earthquakes, incoming asteroids or comets, solar flares, or extra heat in the ocean."
In a way, the show serves as a cataclysmic answer to MythBusters, setting out to upend the public's perception of world-ending events as depicted by popular media. Sorry, Roland Emmerich, but Nye says Hollywood's biggest disaster movie sin is providing a quick and easy resolution to the problem. "If all the electricity in the world were shut down by a solar flare, we wouldn't be turning it right back on in a weekend. It'd be a huge, huge problem."
According to fellow co-creator and executive producer Brannon Braga, the Peacock project began with a call from executive producer and Fuzzy Door Productions founder, Seth MacFarlane, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. "He was commenting on how there's a lot of fear mongering in the media and [asking] how we could use it as a force of good in the world," he recalled. "I came up with this idea of a disaster show that's a science show in disguise. The first half is scary and the second half is optimistic ... We have no excuse now to prevent the disasters we can prevent and survive, the ones we can survive. That's the big difference. And that's what we aim to show."
"Our goal is to scare you, and then to fill you with joy and hope," echoed Nye, whose fun and easy-to-swallow approach to science has enthralled audiences for over three decades. "I'll tell anybody ... to avoid the expression ‘dumb it down,’" he added. "Let's use ‘Make it clear.’ Pick the fundamental ideas you want to get across and get those across. Because we're talking about a TV show, not a textbook. You've only got a few minutes to watch it and absorb an idea."
MacFarlane — who previously worked with Braga on Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey and Cosmos: Possible Worlds — makes a small cameo in each of the six episodes, usually as an individual in a position of power "who has made a disaster worse through human negligence or willful ignorance," Braga teased.
"The whole idea that Brandon had of bringing Seth into it was playing the same thing in every episode [but] in a new way," added executive producer and Fuzzy Door President, Erica Huggins. "It really gives us a sense of how one thing, one person, or one idea can make something better, or it can make something worse ... The point of the show is that we can actually do something about it. The things that we can do are things that are at our disposal now. Some things are being worked on and some things are for 10 years from now, but if we do it now, those things in 10 years will actually be a huge thing to save our planet."
Humanity has feared the end of days since the very dawn of time, and The End is Nye seeks to channel our collective existential dread into a more proactive outlet fueled by tangible scientific worries. "We take specific disasters that scientists, geologists, astronomers, [and] agronomists are concerned about and amplify them with a plot and all sorts of fabulous digital effects," Nye explained. "When you're going to end the world, you’re gonna need digital effects."
"There's a lot of a lot of computer-generated effects. I mean, that's a misnomer. As we're learning the hard way, there are artists exactly making those effects," Braga said. "We have thousands of visual effects shots, but we also have a lot of practical effects. At any given time, there were three Bills on the set. There was Bill Nye, stunt Bill, and gymnast Bill. Bill gets killed in every episode, so we had a very good stunt double."
While the pandemic is still a pressing issue all across the globe, Braga revealed the simple reason why the team wasn't quite ready to tackle COVID-19: "We don't know the ending yet." The health viral crisis may crop up in a potential second season, which would most likely dive into "a few more unnatural disasters" like nuclear war and authoritarianism. The creator sums up it up perfectly in six words: "There’s no shortage of disasters here."
How close are we to total annihilation, exactly? The answer to that age-old query doesn't offer much in the way of satisfaction or comfort. "It depends," Nye said. "We're right next to it, or it's millennia away. Humans are almost certainly extinction-proof. Killing all 8 billion humans would be really hard. But making life miserable for more than half of us, it’d be very straightforward right now. The world could end for a few billion people very easily. You can run in circles screaming or you can make a TV show about it."
All six episodes of The End is Nye collide with Peacock like a world-ending meteor Thursday, Aug. 25.
Click here for SYFY WIRE’s full coverage of San Diego Comic-Con 2022.