Behind the scenes: Daily Planet’s Greatest Show Ever

It's hard to imagine that 3,000 pounds of cornstarch and water can support human weight, let alone allow someone to walk clear across it. But if there's a seemingly impossible feat requiring scientific intervention, Daily Planet is on it - and has been on it for the last 15 years.
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It’s hard to imagine that 3,000 pounds of cornstarch and water can support human weight, let alone allow someone to walk clear across it. But if there’s a seemingly impossible feat requiring scientific intervention, Daily Planet is on it – and has been on it for the last 15 years.

Discovery Channel Canada is celebrating the show’s 15th anniversary with its two-hour special Daily Planet’s Greatest Show Ever, taped live at the Ontario Science Centre where Playback Daily went behind the scenes of the world’s first science and tech TV series.

“We didn’t want an anniversary show to look back, but to celebrate 15 years and look to the future,” says executive producer Jeff MacDonald, who sits down with his team for weekly pitch meetings to hammer out 40 stories each week. “You don’t fix something that’s not broken, but you do want to stay relevant.”

MacDonald has been part of the Daily Planet team since January 2009 and has implemented some changes since coming on board: adding warmer set colors, a faster pace to keep up with viewers’ habits and introducing new elements to the show (e.g. Weird Planet, Super Slow-Mo Tuesdays).

At the dress and tech rehearsal, MacDonald weaves his way through the Centre’s maze of hallways to check on three cement mixers churning cornstarch and water. The thick, paint-like substance is transported a few buckets at a time to a livestock trough in the middle of the set, where physicist and frequent show contributor Jearl Walker will attempt to – wait for it – walk on water.

It sounds crazy. Almost as crazy as Walker announcing he would dip his hand in molten lead, another stunt on deck for the anniversary show. But the Daily Planet team is full of all kinds of similar stories — just ask segment producer Ben Schaub.

Like the show’s long-time host Jay Ingram, he came from the CBC’s Quirks & Quarks in 1994 — “before the show had a name,” adds Schaub — to launch @discovery.ca the following year.

He’s stepped in panda poo in China when he saw the world’s first captive panda being released into the wild. He knows what a mummy smells like, and he’s ridden a prototype of the world’s tallest drop ride without breaks in Utah called The Sonic Boom, which clocks in at 365 feet tall. “You’re going 70 km/h and there are four seconds of negative g,” he recalls. “You scream until you can’t scream anymore.

“All other rides are boring now.”

It would seem Schaub and his team have done it all. But the universe is a big place and there is still much to explore. Asked for the one place he’d like to venture, he replied: “I want to get up into orbit.”

Going forward, MacDonald is hoping to expand Daily Planet’s online presence. “We live in a multi-screen universe and we want to be on all screens,” he says. The Daily Planet already has its own iPhone app and an iPad app is forthcoming. And with CTV’s recent acquisition by BCE, MacDonald is hoping to work closely with Bell to figure out how to best deliver content to viewers.

Daily Planet’s Greatest Show Ever is directed by Steve Sloan, with hosts Jay Ingram and Ziya Tong, and will air on Discovery Channel on Sunday, October 10.