Ecollywood: Alan Alda hangs out with chimps
Emmy-winning actor returns to PBS to host new science show.
Thu, Dec 31, 2009 at 11:36 AM
(Photo: Courtesy PBS)
“I’m reading a lot of stuff about plastic containers. Not good,” says actor and activist Alan Alda, expressing his eco-concerns to the Mother Nature Network. “I was going to fill an acre of ground with solar panels but first I realized I had to plug up the holes in the house and then I realized the solar panels were still so expensive that they wouldn’t pay for themselves. But little by little. We’ve got a hybrid car, a Honda. And I want to get a plug-in.”
The Emmy Award-winning actor and former host of Scientific American Frontiers is hosting a new three-part miniseries for PBS called The Human Spark, about what sets humans apart from other species. Interviewing experts in the fields of archaeology, anthropology, neuroscience, primatology, religion, and behavioral psychology, Alda makes science accessible while chatting up professors about our brains.
“They’re not just broadcasting a lecture so it gets a little more personal. I got to understand a little bit better from talking to the scientists about what makes us human,” explains Alda, who learns about tool-making in the Jan. 6 premiere, and the differences between humans and chimpanzees the following week. “We did a lot of takes,” he says of shooting with a simian. “The chimp, who was really adorable, kept eating his crayon.”
Alda, who has two acting Emmys for M*A*S*H and one for The West Wing, is choosy about the projects he accepts. “One, it has to sound like fun; and, two, it has to sound like it will be really hard to do because I don't want to do what I did before,” he says, likening the challenge to “Walking a high wire between two buildings and seeing if I can keep from falling off.” Also, “Working with really good people is a real draw to me. I loved working with the people on 30 Rock,” he says, referring to his two-episode guest appearance in May. “And Scorsese, of course,” he adds, praising his Aviator director. “I think he's a genius.”
But what is he proudest of? “My children and grandchildren,” he responds, putting those prestige projects second in priority to his family and personal life. “We don’t waste our time on things that don’t seem worth it. We don’t go to parties with rich people for that reason. They have to be interesting. I’m proud of what we did on M*A*S*H, but it’s more the doing,” he continues. “I’m glad to have been able to do it. There are some clunkers in there, but if you don’t take a chance and do stuff, you’ll miss the clunkers but you’ll miss everything else.”
Also on TV: When it aired last spring on Fox, The Goode Family made more of a ratings ripple than a splash, but the animated comedy is getting a second life on Comedy Central beginning Jan. 4 at 10 p.m. The satirical cartoon from Mike Judge, John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky is about a family of green-minded liberals, hybrid-driving vegans whose best intentions usually go awry. The voice cast includes Judge, Nancy Carrell, Dave Herman, Linda Cardellini and Brian Doyle Murray.
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