A syndicated one-hour special scheduled to air during Black History Month in February, Making it Happen: African American Masters of Invention, documents the achievements of African-Americans in fields such as engineering, health care, science, and transportation. Stills and archival footage are among the elements used to examine the work of African-American inventors responsible for necessities such as the traffic light, ironing board, sugar processor, peanut oil, and radiator.
Hosted by actor and director Glynn Turman, the special is budgeted at under US$80,000. It is executive produced by Gary H. Grossman and Rob Weller of Weller/ Grossman Productions, the Los Angeles-based company responsible for the Emmy Award-winning U.S. special, Healing The Hate, and A&E’s Cable Ace Award winning, Biography.
‘For many years, our consultant, Jay Strong, was program director at KCBS in Los Angeles,’ says Grossman. ‘He had worked with two terrific producers, Bob Oliver and James Graves, on a 30-minute special called African-American Masters of Invention. Around eight months ago, Jay brought these guys to our attention, we viewed the half-hour show and basically agreed that it would be a perfect candidate for a one-hour special.’
Co-executive produced by Graves and Oliver, the one-hour documentary was promptly grabbed up by Baruch Entertainment, a Washington, D.C. based syndication company which distributes African-American and Hispanic themed programming.
‘[Company president] Ed Baruch, felt that the program would find a home across the country on a station-to-station basis – thanks to its high national appeal,’ Grossman continues. ‘Syndication, which offers good time periods and terrific promotion from local stations, is the best route since this series probably would not stand a strong chance against the thick competition on the networks.’
Grossman believes the documentary is an important viewing event, because it reveals the inventors’ ongoing impact on the lives of everyday people.
‘We all know that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb,’ he says, ‘but Louis Latimer invented the bulb’s filament, the little wire that allows electricity to provide light. If Latimer hadn’t invented the filament, things may have been very different.’
Also profiled is Dr. Thomas Mensah, who designed the laser-guided Patriot Missile, a weapon used during the 1991 Gulf War. ‘His laser-guided bombs really made a significant difference in the outcome of the war between the U.S. and Iraq,’ Grossman states. ‘He holds seven patents in fiber optics and three patents in fiber optic-guided missile technology. In fact, the impact of his work stretches to communications because the same fiber optic technology is now being used in the next generation of fax machines and electronic banking.’
When it comes to female inventors, the documentary includes the work of visionaries such as Patricia E. Bath, a professor of ophthalmology who pursued the treatment and prevention of blindness in African-Americans. Bath developed cataract surgery with a laser patent.
‘We also explore the work of Sarah Goode, the first African-American woman to secure a patent,’ Grossman says. ‘In 1885, Sarah invented the folding bed, something which proves especially useful when the in-laws visit town.’