Myth busted!

Dissecting an Episode of MythBusters

Note the sneaky double-commercial at 15 min.

This explains why it takes me about twelve minutes to watch an hour long episode of Mythbusters: I fast-forward so heavily that I miss most of it. Well, I wouldn't say I miss it.

I liked this comment:

After every episode of MythBusters I've ever watched, I always end up feeling a little bit cheated, but I could never put a finger on the reason (or the remote). Thank you Thomas for helping me realize why I've always found this show, which seems so interesting, vaguely unpleasant to watch. When I tune in, something in this formulae keeps me watching, as intended, but leaves me unsatisfied and feeling jerked around. The problem is that no story is actually told in a manner efficient enough for my enjoyment, rather just efficiently enough for me not to notice how little fun I'm having.


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31 Responses:

  1. James says:

    When watching cartoons as a kid I could never understand why there'd be unexplained black sections every ten or so minutes. You know, the hero is in danger, the baddie is about to flick the death-o-tron switch and *fade to black* *fade back in* *repeat last five seconds of show* *continue*.

    Wasn't until I watched US TV that I realised just how much you love shoving adverts in stuff. The X-Files is a 45 minute show in the UK, not an hour.

    I too watched Mythbusters on fast-forward. My rule was "If it's not exploding, or Adam isn't jumping up and down then it's filler".

    • pavel_lishin says:

      Where did you watch TV where the commercials were cut out for you?

      • fantasygoat says:

        BBC. TV in the UK is paid for by licensing of the sets themselves.

        • antabakaYT says:

          Same in Germany. You got used to it after a while, but was sort of annoying. Fade out, Fade in. Repeat last 5-10 seconds.

          Same with shows from the discovery channel that make it to Germany. Every 10-15 minutes there is a fade0out, then fade in and then the narrator gives a 2 minute summary of what happened in the last 10-15 minutes. As if my attention span is that short. Helps you to catch up when you switch on too late though.

          • When I work on shows for Discovery they ask us to include 5-10 minutes of extra footage for international broadcast, for the express purpose of filling out the ad breaks. So if things are done properly, it should feel like a full one-hour show.

            And don't think that you're getting cool extra bonus scenes like some sort of Director's Cut. Usually you're getting filler that was cut long ago, but is passable enough to include.

    • You'll appreciate this;

      One of the commercial channels in Australia used to show Blackadder as a 1 hour show !! How they did it was to have 1 1/2 episodes (the 1/2 episode being the 'teaser' for next weeks full length episode), plus 15 minutes of Adverts

  2. Adam says:

    I'd love for someone to throw some mechanical turks at a statistically significant selection of Myth Busters episodes over the run of the series to add metadata. Things like segment durations, number and severity of spoilers in their teaser shots but also stuff like the time spent making stuff and explaining challenges the teams have come across on a given myth. I'm finding that as the show gets older the time they used to spend trying to teach us something has made way for them 'going bigger'.

    Yeah, explosions are cool. Yeah, if you get that allegedly shady ex-cop to put more C4 in you'll get a bigger result. I'm just so sick of that being their default option when attempting to solve a problem.

    • pavel_lishin says:

      > I'm just so sick of [more C4] being their default option when attempting to solve a problem.

      I don't, uh. I don't understand.

      • Adam says:

        > > I'm just so sick of [more C4] being their default option when attempting to solve a problem.
        > I don't, uh. I don't understand.

        I can see there's some irony in your reply, though I am worried there's not enough.

  3. Tim says:

    I can't recall where, but I once read that Discovery does not believe their average viewer is willing to watch an entire Mythbusters episode without flipping to some other show and getting distracted. So, Discovery asks that the show be structured with lots of repetition and fluff, on the theory that this vital target market of ADD channelsurfers would cease to like the show if they were forced to actually watch most of it in order to learn about the myths. Since Discovery pays the bills, Hyneman's production company gives them what they want.

    And the worst thing is, they're probably not wrong about this. After all, the show still attracts sponsors, and this format is not a new thing. So it must be working.

    In summary: People suck.

    • Hadlock says:

      Isn't structured repetition a keystone to good storytelling? Ok, perhaps not storytelling, but the average viewer probably doesn't build things, and will need to have the science and/or concepts explained several times over the course of an hour to grasp why something blew up and why this isn't the nominal result.

    • pavel_lishin says:

      I wonder if Netflix could prove them wrong. I haven't watched Mythbusters on an actual cable channel in more than a year, and I still sit patiently through an episode.

      • Chris Dunphy says:

        I have given up on watching Mythbusters even on Netflix because the repetition is so damn annoying. I love the show - I'd pay for a non-bastardized cleanly edited version!

    • Owen says:

      Mythbusters isn't special this way. Basically all mid-level cable shows are designed to be understandable if you tune in after any commercial break. Thus the long resets.

      And they want you to keep watching past the commercials, so they relentlessly tease whatever's coming up, even if it's stupid. I've worked on episodes where they showed stuff in the teases that never even happened in the episode.

  4. Photar  says:

    I wish someone on the Internet would go through and edit every episode of Mythbusters down taking out all extra junk.

    • Adolf Osborne says:

      Several years ago, I became bothered enough with Mythbusters that I edited an episode with the following goals:

      1. Linearity,
      2. Elimination of redundant material,
      3. Linearity, and
      4. Linearity.

      (Note that since I torrented the episodes that I edited, advertising had already been cut.)

      Just putting the show together in order made it much more enjoyable. Instead of being ordered as 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 3, 1, 3, 1 (as visualized in the pretty charts and graphs above) it got a lot simpler: Myth 1, myth 2, myth 3, and done.

      It also made it easy to skip a myth if the kids on the show were up to something particularly inane.

      And getting rid of redundant footage made me feel a lot less stupid afterward. I'm OK with multiple replays of particularly awesome things, but I tire quickly from having to watch what seems like an endless parade of teaser previews during the show.

      Perhaps it helps to have an attention span greater than that of a gnat.

      • Louis says:

        I was going to suggest, there's probably an interest in "pirate editors" for torrented reality shows, which job is exactly what you described you did... of course doing it for each weekly episode, and with impatient downloaders waiting would make it a stressful and unrewarding job (ask for PayPal donations = get a massive copyright infringement lawsuit)...

        • Louis says:

          Then again, it's probably possible/easier to build a media player that can accept a metadata that can control it, e.g.:

          1. Play 0:00 to 10:00
          2. Skip to 11:00, play to 12:00
          3. Skip to 40:00, play to 45:00
          4. Skip back to 14:00...

          etc, etc..

          • Adolf Osborne says:

            I like it.

            This does several things:

            1. Keeps the torrent unpolluted (as any archivist would prefer)
            2. Keeps the editor out of hot water (as any editor would prefer)
            3. Allows the editor to legitimately take donations (yeah - as if)

  5. Jon Konrath says:

    I *hate* that double commercial trick with the 15 second bumper of almost-actual content that they always do on shows like this. It's most annoying when I'm skipping through with the +60 second button on my DVR and I just miss it so I either jump completely over that 15 seconds or I hit the last second of it and then back up and end up watching a commercial anyway. Small annoyance, but it's probably going to add up to like a year of my life.

  6. I think the most annoying thing, besides all of that, is the announcer. I don't mind the intercutting between the beardies and the hipsters so much, but ironically it's all the recaps and teasers and whatever that makes me go flipping around.

  7. Ben Cantrick says:

    > Since Discovery pays the bills, Hyneman's production company gives them what they want.

    Technically, Jamie doesn't own Beyond Productions. Actually, I'm not sure who does. It's an Australian Company, so presumably Australian people? Here's their management team from their website:
    Though I have no idea if any of those people decide the show format. It could be some other team of editors and producers lower down in the company.

    tl;dr - Mythbusters is produced and edited by some company in Australia. They're the ones who decide how to chop the footage from the shop and up and where to put the commercials and such.

    • Ben Cantrick says:

      Whoops. That was supposed to be a reply to Tim. Sorry.

    • Ronan Waide says:

      ...with an office in Ireland for tax reasons. Or at least they did when I was in the same office building a couple of years ago.

      • Ben Cantrick says:

        > …with an office in Ireland for tax reasons

        Oh, I guess this explains where they found Kari! ;]

  8. Otto says:

    Tivo. Fast forward. 'nuff said.

  9. Scott says:

    We were watching a marathon of Auction Hunters on Spike this weekend during the rain, and they actually used 33 minute blocks to show what is normally a 30 minute show. I guess people don't notice the 3 minute extra ads when they watch 4 or 5 episodes in a row. Some of the commercial blocks were 6 minutes long! Crazy.

  10. fantasygoat says:

    I find regular broadcast TV unwatchable now, thanks to torrents. Actually having to wait through commercials is like torture. Sure, I lose the ability to channel surf, and there are a few awesome DIY shows that no one uploads, but it's a small price to pay.

  11. Adam stated in a interview that they have one producer who listens to all the episodes audio-only in her car. If she can't follow it from the audio alone, it gets recut until she can. Hence all the agonizingly excessive narration and recaps.

    • Adolf Osborne says:

      That's really interesting, and not a bad production technique, but:

      The stuff I listen to in the car doesn't need a bunch of repetition in order to be followed.

      Why is Mythbusters somehow exceptional?

  12. Shandrew says:

    There's also a remarkable amount of variation in the quality of the episodes. Some feel quite stretched to fill the hours while in others it seems like they cut out a lot to fit the hour. The recent episode on stopping a car with cars (duh) and lighting a dark area using sun-reflected mirrors (wow, you can use light to brighten a room?) was probably the worst I've *ever* seen.

    On the other side, the episode where they crashed a multi-stage rocket sled into a car at roughly 700 mph was incredible.