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Series / Watch Mr. Wizard

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Watch Mr. Wizard was an early attempt at science education through the medium of television. Created by radio personality Don Herbert (who played the titular Mr. Wizard, a science hobbyist), the series focused on teaching basic scientific principles such as magnetism and friction. In any given episode, a boy or girl would enter Mr. Wizard's lab and be shown what was, in effect, a scientific magic trick. This would then lead to a discussion and teaching of the principles connected to the trick — vibrating a spoon with sound waves from an electronic speaker, for instance, led into a discussion of the generation of electricity, and thus vibrations.

Starting in 1951 on NBC, Watch Mr. Wizard proved to have staying power, a combination of Herbert's genial personality and a presentation style that would be copied for over a generation to come: Show, then tell. After moving from Chicago to New York in 1955, the show would continue to run for ten more years before being canceled. In that time, it even won a Peabody Award, and was credited by the National Science Foundation and the American Chemical Society for increasing public interest in science. NBC tried to revive it six years later as Mr. Wizard, moving production to Canada and airing the program on CBC, but the revival lasted only one season.

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In 1983, however, Nickelodeon, still in its infancy and starved for new and original programming, revived Mr. Wizard once more, on cable. Mr. Wizard's World was a faster-paced version of the show, and ran until 1989, managing to become the third most popular show on the then-fledgling channel (behind Livewire and You Can't Do That on Television).

Watch Mr. Wizard and its variants contain examples of:

  • Clarke's Third Law: Exploited by the show title, with the titular "Mr. Wizard" being a scientist who presents experiments that seem impossible and magical, but can actually be easily replicated at home.
  • Doing In the Wizard: Naturally. While a trick may look impossible, by the end of the episode it's revealed to be good, solid science.
  • Hall of Mirrors: A scientific example of infinite reflections occurred in an episode where he had a child step into a small enclosure created by three mirrors and closed up the top with another mirror. Then, the camera zoomed out, suggesting that the kid was trapped there forever surrounded by himself...
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  • Edutainment Show: An early example of the genre, focused around at-home science experiments.
  • Little Jimmy: Trope Namer is the neighbor boy who'd come to see Mr. Wizard's science tricks.
  • Long-Runners: Pooling together the 1951-1965 original series, the 1971-1972 Canadian revival, and the 1983-1989 Nickelodeon version, the Mr. Wizard series ran for a rough total of 21 (nonconsecutive) years across three networks.
  • Revival: Saw two over the years: a Canadian-produced version (still under the ownership of NBC) as Mr. Wizard in 1971 and the Nickelodeon-produced Mr. Wizard's World in 1983.
  • Science Show
  • Science Is Good: The overarching theme of the series, which sought to make science more appealing to younger audiences by showing how fun and easy it is to do certain experiments at home.
  • Spiritual Successor: Bill Nye, Beakman, and really every host of any science show for children is following in Don Herbert's footsteps. The two penguins on Beakman's World are even named Don and Herb in his honor.
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