American pubcaster PBS has partnered with Jane Root‘s London- and Washington, DC-based factual outfit Nutopia on a four-part series exploring the life-extending role of science, medicine and public health.
Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer will examine the science and medical innovations that have doubled life expectancies by defeating some of the world’s deadliest diseases, including smallpox, cholera, the Spanish flu and others.
The mini-series will also reveal how scientists, doctors, self-experimenters and activists had managed to save countless lives with the discovery of certain vaccines and medicines, fundamentally altering how we think about illness and “ultimately paving the way for modern medicine.”
Set in the context of today’s COVID-19 pandemic, the four episodes will focus on the history of vaccines by tracing the origins of inoculation back to Africa; how the emergence of fact-based research, data mapping and analysis improved public health; recent medical inventions that combat illness directly; and examines the importance of public engagement during a health crisis.
Guiding viewers through three centuries-worth of health innovations will be best-selling author Steven Johnson (The Ghost Map, How We Got to Now) and historian and broadcaster David Olusoga (pictured; Civilizations, Black & British: A Forgotten History). The pair will pull the curtain back on modern medicine by meeting with the unsung heroes tackling COVID-19 and other public health threats.
“The revolution in medicine and public health that has taken place over the past three centuries is one of the greatest achievements of all time,” said Olusoga in a statement. “The series is a history of unsung heroes and forgotten pioneers whose incredible stories deserve to be better known.”
Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer premieres May 11 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on PBS. The limited series will also be made available stream via pbs.org and the PBS Video app.
The four-part docuseries is directed Duncan Singh, Helen Sage, Tristan Quinn, David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg. It is executive produced by Jane Root, Nicola Moody, Fiona Caldwell and Steven Johnson. Bill Gardner is the executive in charge for PBS.
Funding for Extra Life was provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the New Venture Fund and PBS.
Extra Life serves as a multi-platform collaboration and is accompanied by an extensive education outreach component in partnership with The Pulitzer Center, which will distribute resources to schools and colleges. New York Times Magazine, meanwhile, is to additionally publish a special issue that delves into the larger history of science, medicine and public health; and Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Group, is to publish a book authored by Johnson, titled Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer, timed with the series premiere.