Even more from the media column today (linked here) on John Brenkus and “Sport Science,” which will have an episode to air on ESPN Saturday prior to the James Toney-Randy Couture boxer-vs.-MMA battle in UFC 118 (above, and linked here):
Question: Factoring in performance enhancing drugs into the equation as to who can perform the best feats of athletic achievement is something you’ve addressed as well in your book. Is that the X-factor that you have to weigh that you may wish you didn’t have to?
Brenkus: I really do take the approach that: Assume everyone’s doing everything they can to get an edge. Steroids aren’t a black and white issue, but really just a big shade of gray. And for anyone to take a different stance, in my opinion, doesn’t understand the business of sports. It’s not the athlete who’s doing it, it’s the machine that demands it be done. People want to crucify athletes for doing this, but the truth is, Advil and caffeine are enhancing performance as well. When you talk about baseball players taking steroids, was it legal or illegal? That wasn’t the question. They weren’t banned at the time. And then there are arbitrary numbers that come up for things like testosterone levels – these nice round numbers that everyone can get their heads around easier.
Q: How has the relationship with ESPN helped move “Sport Science” into this new direction after such a succesful run on Fox Sports Net?
Brenkus: ESPN’s people have also been very collaborative in this process. It’s been very organic. We’ll ask them: What do you wonder about?
And what’s smart about that from ESPN, you’ll never get 15 million people to watch a “Sport Science” show, but you have 15 million people glued to the set when a “Sport Science” segment is on during a game on Monday Night Football. And now, having a standing set here (in Burbank), it’s much easier than having to jam everything into a three-week window like it was before with a temporary set. When we moved to ESPN the only way to run the show was having a standing set because never know who an athlete is available. We’re wired to go live to air from this facility if we needed to. We’re all fibered up and can feed things directly. And L.A. is a great place to get people. Everyone passes through here, if not for training, then for a photo-shoot or a commercial.
Q: If you’re taking this from the approach of what makes good TV – you’ve been a director, producer, editor, all that – how does your background in science come in?
Brenkus: I was always a good student in physics and biology and the foundation of having gone to the University of Virginia. I only read science stuff — I don’t read anything fiction. And the book I’ve done is the kind of book I’d want to read. You dive into something, learn something. And you look for arguments.
Q: So the point is also that the species can change and all your arguments, based on current information, would make your predictions look far different?
Brenkus: Ten thousand years from now, people could be eight feet tall and fast sprinters.
Q: Did that make registering a prediction 20 years ago harder to do without today’s technology? Could you say when you first started this that no one will run a 9.5 in the 100 meters, not knowing that Usain Bolt would come around, or how to even measure that possibility?
Brenkus: I never really postulated numbers back then, but what I did was really wonder. In most cases, there really was no way to get the answers back then. But then again, a number is meaningless without something to back it up. What I want to do is give something that’s not so scientific that it makes everyone’s eyes glaze over, but enough information so that you can buy into the argument that this is the real answer.
Even when you watch an instant replay, the reason why you’re fascinated is because you’re getting more information. You’re asking yourself, “How in the world did that happen?” The replay brings up far more questions than answers. So we want to tap into that, even if you’re not a sports fan but are someone who has marveled at a human’s ability to walk – how is that engineering feat even capable?
Q: What’s the feedback from viewers? Is there an idea some viewer has submitted that was too good to pass on?
Brenkus: Someone asked about doing the Ironman — can the average person do it? I ended up doing it and it came off well. I did finish it but I blew out my right hip and had to pedal the last six miles into a 40-mph headwind with one leg. The guy who won it, Chris McCormick, actually finished the entire race just as I was starting on the bike part of it. But it also shows how 20 years ago, the top time was about 12 hours. Over two days. Now they’re finishing it in eight hours. That’s staggering about how humans will run the gauntlet when it’s thrown at them.
Q: How expensive can all this get with a single experiment?
Brenkus: It’s not just a matter of throwing out numbers. It really depends on the experiment. We have a large, robust machine with every piece of scientific gear, motion capture equipment, animation, the best camera equipment and a giant staff of researchers, writers, scientists … It’s hard to compare (to even a reality show) because it’s so different. We travel sometimes — one time, we had to go to Indianapolis Motor Speedway because we couldn’t replicate it in the studio.
Q: Final question: Do you have any idea what flubber is made of?
Brenkus: The actual chemical composition, I don’t actually know. But I do know it’s a property that is bounding up against the laws of perpetual motion — energy that’s exerted equally wil be energy that’s returned. Most people think of Flubber as a liquified Super Ball. That’s not an actual product. Even in theoritical conversations, physics will say, “Don’t you realize how silly it sounds making a perpetual motion machine? But with movies like “Back to the Future,” some think it’s a real thing.
Q: Maybe Flubber could help someone duink the ball on a 14-foot basket (in his new book, “The Perfection Point,” Brenkus theorizes that someone who is 7-foot-2 with a 51-inch vertical leap could be the first to dunk on a basket that high).
Brenkus: That’s the absolute top (actually, 14-feet, 5-inches). You think someone the size of Yao Ming could get a 51-inch vertical. I think it can happen.
== Brenkus says it’s the most-discussed video he get asked about — Drew Brees, going 10-for-10, over at the new Ed Roybal Charter School facility near Dodger Stadium: