In the spring of 1950, “Science in Action” began as a fifteen minute segment on a popular Bay Area television program called “The Del Courtney Show.” Academy staffer Tom Groody made a guest appearance on the program during which time he discussed scientific topics and brought in animals from the Academy’s Steinhart Aquarium. The segment was wildly popular and Groody was invited to return and further discuss contemporary science issues. Eventually, Groody’s Science in Action segment became a regular thirteen week feature in the program.
Shortly thereafter, a half-hour weekly evening television series was developed to discuss timely and significant scientific subjects with guest scientists, demonstrations, and an animal of the week exhibition. By fall of 1950, the “Science in Action” television show was the first live science program on television in the country and forged the path for science programs as we know them today.
In 1952, Academy superintendent Dr. Earl Herald took over the role as host of Science in Action. Herald’s spontaneity and charm quickly put guests at ease and made the topics easily understandable for the audience at large. The program raised public awareness and increased traffic to the Aquarium, especially the animal of the week exhibition, which featured wild animals on live television. In one reported incident, newly born water snakes had escaped from the set of Science in Action into the television studio during a live broadcast. Because of this publicity, over five thousand people stopped in to the Aquarium the following week asking to see the baby snakes. Additionally, it was not uncommon to see a handler get bit or an animal defecate and without missing a beat, Herald would offer the clever banter that endeared him to home audiences. In June of 1966, due to rising costs of production, Dr. Herald hosted the 626th and final episode of “Science in Action”.
We are pleased to announce the newest addition to our library collections website: The Science in Action Television show archives. There you can learn about the items that the Academy holds in its Science in Action collection, which includes over a thousand reels of 16mm film, hundreds of scripts, and hundreds of photographs. Owing to preservation concerns and a lack of on site resources only digitally preserved versions of the television show can be viewed, and currently, very few of the films exist in this form. However, the films are available to be digitized for a fee, and we’re hopeful that the website will draw attention to the collection and generate contributions to the digitization effort.