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The Sciences

Elevator Pitch Contest

Cosmic VarianceBy Sean CarrollNovember 20, 2008 10:49 PM

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Yesterday's launch event for the Science and Entertainment Exchange was a smashing success. The enthusiasm of everyone in the room was palpable, especially on the Hollywood side -- these folks would love to be interacting more closely with scientists on a regular basis. (Let me pause to give a plug for Eleventh Hour, a show which I haven't actually seen yet, but whose writers were complaining that they sometimes take grief for being too scientifically accurate.) I came away from the symposium with lots of new ideas, and also a deep-seated fear of our coming robot masters. So, in honor of the new program, we hereby announce the

Cosmic Variance Elevator Pitch Contest

. I don't know about you, but many folks I know with an interest in science take great pleasure in complaining about the embarrassing lack of realism and respect for the laws of nature apparent in so many movies and TV shows. Here's your (fictional) chance to do something about it. Opening scene: you step into an elevator at the headquarters of CBS/Paramount Television in Hollywood. (Unclear why you are there -- perhaps to have lunch with your more-successful friend from high school, who works for their legal team.) There is only one other person in the elevator with you for the journey to the top floor -- and it's Les Moonves, President and CEO of CBS! (Again, unclear why he is taking the same elevator as you -- we'll fix that in post-production.) Here is the perfect opportunity for your elevator pitch. You have thirty seconds -- which, as this blog is still a text-based medium, we'll approximate as strictly 100 words or less -- to pitch your idea for a new TV show that is based on science. It can be an hour drama, a half-hour sitcom, a reality show, game show, documentary, science fiction, whatever you like. For example:

I have an idea for a show called Cosmic Variance. It’s about seven scientists who blog during the day, but at night they fight crime! And to do it, they used advanced notions from modern physics and astrophysics, from adaptive optics to quantum decoherence. They’re young, they’re sexy, and they break hearts as they bust heads. But their university colleagues are already suspicious of their blogging, so they have to keep the crime-fighting activities completely secret. They have a deep underground lab where they carry out cutting-edge experiments, and there’s a canine sidekick named Sparky.

Okay, that's a fairly silly example. I'm not eligible to win the contest. But you, the reader, are! So here are some of the ideas you want to keep in mind while polishing your pitch:

Most importantly: Les Moonves's goal in life is not to make science look good. It's to make money. So don't pitch that this show would make the world a better place, or make science seem interesting; convince him that it's exciting to everyone and will attract millions of eyeballs.

Use the science. For our purposes, we're less interested in a show idea that tacks on some science to make things sound cool, as we are in a concept that couldn't happen without the science.

Story is paramount. As much as we love accuracy and realism, there has to be a compelling narrative. You need to convince Moonves that people will be emotionally connected to the characters and their situation.

It's easy to mock the efforts of others, but here's a chance to see whether you could really put together a compelling show idea. Leave your entry in the comments. They will be judged by our crack team of scientists/bloggers/crime-fighters, and the winner will get a Cosmic Variance T-shirt. (We have plans to upgrade the quality of our current swag options.) Please note that there is not some hidden plan to actually make any TV shows out of this -- we have no clout along those lines, so if you are a professional scriptwriter, don't dump your plans out in public here on our blog. But if you're a pro you already knew that. And then: memorize your pitch! You never know when you might find yourself trapped in an elevator with the right person, and you have to be ready.

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