In Search of… Martians

The Martians are coming, the Martians are coming!

Maybe not.

Hard to believe, but when this episode of In Search of… was produced, it was hot on the heels of our first landers on Mars, Vikings 1 and 2.  The question of “is/was there life on Mars” was in the forefront of many people’s minds.  In Search of… was quick to exploit that.

A brief, not very accurate explanation of the formation of the solar system involved the sun being a collection of stuff (rather than gasses, primary hydrogen) and the planets being the “burnt cinders” flung out from the “igniting” sun that then formed the planets.

There’s some lovely footage of lava to represent the surface of the sun.  Well, what are you going to do?  There were no CGI effects in those days.

Nimoy, in a surprisingly authoritative setting – in front of a model Viking lander at JPL, tells about man’s desire to understand Mars, our sister planet.  Of how Percival Lowell first discovered the canals on Mars (remember them?)  He tells of how Mars once had water and that, perhaps, life on Mars left there to come to Earth, possibly forming life here.

If we return to Mars and terraform it, will we be returning the favor?

Not much to this episode, but there’s a great line from one of the scientists – “With all that water at the poles, we might as well melt it.”

I miss the good old days!

In Search of… Martians first aired on May 21, 1977.  Only 135 episodes to go.

In Search of...

In Search of… the Mummy’s Curse

Finally, we’re back to good, old-fashioned, hard-hitting investigative reporting of lunacy!  It’s the mummy’s curse! (Cue maniacal laughter and the sound of thunder.)

I don’t need to tell you about the curse of Tutankhamen (or is it the curse of Akhenaten?).  Howard Carter, along with his friend and financier, the Fifth Earl of Carnarvon, broke into King Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922.  Soon thereafter, Lord Carnarvon was dead under mysterious circumstances as, one by one, the people in the expedition died — apparent victims of the mummy’s curse.  Carter himself died just a short 17 years after opening the tomb.

Putting a slightly skeptical eye towards that, like the Bermuda Triangle, once you do the math, the deaths of the people involved occurred at statistically perfectly normal times for a group of people of that size.  In short, no one’s life was shortened by the opening of the tomb.

One amusing thing about this episode is that, being shot in 1976 or 1977, the Sixth Earl of Carnarvon, his son, was still alive and recalled the events surrounding his father’s death.  Interviewed for the In Search of… cameras, he was an obvious relic from another age.  Sitting for his TV interview in his stately home with a cigar in one hand and a drink in the other.

Finally, the story shifts from the curse of Tutankhamen to the curse of Akhenaten.

Akhenaten, father of Tutankhamen, introduced a massive shift in the religion of Egypt, taking considerable power away from the priests.  Upon his death, it’s said that his named was cursed.  Cursed to be forgotten.

Finally, that manifests itself in the form an anecdote about a play, which named Akhenaten, in which there was hailstorm during rehearsal, and two of the actresses took ill.  A quick google search on this produced…  no mention at all.  Was this made up whole-cloth by In Search of…?

Nimoy does his standups in a cemetery, which looks suspiciously like the same place the “re-enactments” of the doomed play were staged.

In Search of… the Mummy’s Curse first aired May 14th, 1977.  Only 136 episodes to go…

In Search of... title screen

In Search of… Earthquakes

…and if I thought killer bees would be too mundane… in this episode they’re talking about that most mythical of phenomena, Earthquakes.

OK, maybe they’re not so mythical.

In this episode of In Search of… we’re told that bad earthquakes have happened and many people have died.  Further, more bad earthquakes will happen in the future and possibly many, many more people will die.  In San Francisco and Los Angeles in particular.

This 1977 episode details a scenario of what might happen should another big quake hit San Francisco.  Although the horrific death toll and destruction weren’t as much as predicted, it did paint a good picture of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

So what’s the crackpot angle on this episode?

Not a whole lot, really, although they trotted out the oft-repeated meme that animals such as dogs and horses “know” about an impending earthquake hours in advance.  They even showed research into using earthquake-detecting cockroaches.

Oh, and in 1982 a rare planetary alignment will place all the planets in a line on the same side of the sun.  The gravity from such an event will create massive solar activity, increasing the solar winds against the earth.  The polar aurora will be increased and the planet’s atmosphere will slow down its rotation, causing more earthquakes.

Yeah, I didn’t understand that bit, either, but we have successfully played Spot the Looney! for this episode.

Nimoy is standing in the same spot he was for the Bigfoot episode.  I didn’t go back and check, but I think it’s the same suit, too.  My guess is they doubled up filming the two episodes.

In Search of… Earthquakes originally aired May 7, 1977.

Only 137 episodes remaining.

Killer Bees

In Search of… Killer Bees

One thing that has fascinated me as I’ve approached this project.  How would I feel about the episodes of In Search of… that weren’t based entirely on bullshit?

OK, let’s be honest.  I don’t remember any episodes of In Search of… that weren’t bullshit.  From my recollection, it was all about ghosts and monsters and aliens.  So imagine my surprise as I looked at the DVD menus of the first disc and saw “Killer Bees.”

Sure, “killer bees” is a lurid and over-dramatic misnomer of africanized honeybees, but it is a real phenomena and they do exist, here and now, where I live.  Only very recently an acquaintance of mine was attacked by them near my office.

Yes, indeed, a very real thing… but what would In Search of… make of it?  Especially back in 1977, when they were still a continent away from us.

Actually, I can’t really fault In Search of… on this one.  What they stated seems to be factually accurate, although they did spend a fair amount of time recounting the details of several bee attacks, just to make it sound more terrifying.

In the 1950’s, the government of Brazil hoped to create a honeybee that could thrive in the jungle conditions there.  To that end, a research facility took african honeybees, which are close relatives to the European honeybees and attempted to harness them in the Brazilian environment.  African honeybees live longer, breed faster and produce significantly more honey than their European counterparts.

They also swarm more often (that is, pick up house and move somewhere else) and are crazy aggressive protecting their homes. – earning them their reputation as “killers.”

In 1957 an idiot mistakenly released the bees just as they were about to swarm and the rest is history.  Africanized bees have outcompeted the established honeybees and been moving north ever since.

At the time of production of this episode, it was estimated they’d reach the US in 1990.  In reality, they got here in 1985, having caught a lift on a Venezuelan oil tanker.

Nimoy is outside again this episode.  This time in a nice flowery field and later sitting on a patio.  It’s all very pleasant and, looking back over the distance of time, it reminds us of a simpler time when people could go outside without the threat of the killer bees!

Only 138 episodes left.

In Search of… Killer Bees originally aired May 1, 1977.

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