EXTRA LIFE: A SHORT HISTORY OF LIVING LONGER, a new four-part series from Nutopia that examines the science and medical innovations that conquered some of the world’s deadliest diseases and doubled life expectancies for many across the globe.
Set in the context of today’s COVID-19 crisis, this series explores the lessons learned from previous global pandemics – including smallpox, cholera, the Spanish flu and others – and reveals how scientists, doctors, self-experimenters and activists launched a public health revolution, saving millions of lives, fundamentally changing how we think about illness and ultimately paving the way for modern medicine.
Best-selling author Steven Johnson (The Ghost Map, HOW WE GOT TO NOW) and historian and broadcaster David Olusoga (CIVILIZATIONS, “Black & British: A Forgotten History”) combine expertise to guide viewers across 300 years of medical innovation, and go behind the scenes of modern medicine to meet the unsung heroes who are tackling COVID-19 and other public health threats. Johnson and Olusoga shed light on scientific breakthroughs and reveal how collective efforts around the world can lead to extraordinary outcomes, including doubling the human lifespan in under a century.
While the series features many leading public health authorities and scientists on the front lines of the current pandemic, EXTRA LIFE examines the bigger picture and sparks a global conversation about how we’ve learned to save lives. The series explores how the pioneering approaches and innovative medical triumphs of the past have provided a blueprint for our future in the battle to live longer.
The series is particularly sensitive to the cultural blind spots that have influenced our approach to health, tracing the origins of inoculation back to Africa, long before the discovery of vaccination in the west, and highlighting the often-overlooked inequalities in access to health.
“Now more than ever, we need powerful storytelling that captures and explains the achievements in public health and medicine over the past few centuries,” says Johnson. “The fact that we have doubled life expectancy may well be the single most important development in modern history.”
“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,” says Olusoga. “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 to Premiere on May 11, 2021 on PBS. Series will air Tuesdays, May 11-June 1 at 8:00 p.m. ET on PBS, and stream via pbs.org and the PBS Video app.
Each episode will explore one aspect of public health that has played a central role in our battle to live longer.
Episode One: “Vaccines” explores the history and use of vaccination, from early practices in Africa introduced to America during the slave trade and Thomas Jefferson’s clinical trials, to the first anti-vax protests in the 19th century and COVID-19 today.
Episode Two: “Data” looks at how the emergence of fact-based research, data mapping and analysis has improved public health. The practice evolved out of the 19th century science of epidemiology and cholera mortality reports in the 1840s, where the now ubiquitous “curve” of an epidemic was first documented.
Episode Three: “Medicine” focuses on the more recent medical inventions that combat illness directly, particularly antibiotics, and the development of antiviral drugs for HIV. Knowledge of how to produce safe, effective drugs and distribute them quickly around the globe now underpins work to find treatments for COVID-19.
Episode Four: “Behavior” examines the importance of public engagement during a health crisis, from the discovery that the simple act of handwashing could save lives in a 19th Century Viennese maternity hospital – to facemasks and lockdowns used to combat the Spanish flu 100 years ago, along with what we are experiencing today.
EXTRA LIFE: A SHORT HISTORY OF LIVING LONGER is a multiplatform collaboration. The series will be accompanied by an extensive education outreach component in partnership with The Pulitzer Center, which will distribute resources to schools and colleges.
The New York Times Magazine will publish a special issue, featuring a lead article by Johnson, that will delve into the larger history of science, medicine and public health. The issue will also feature data visualizations and articles by historians and other science writers.
Timed to the series premiere, Riverhead will publish a book authored by Johnson titled EXTRA LIFE: A Short History of Living Longer (Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House; on sale May 11, 2021). Johnson is the best-selling author of 12 books, including The Ghost Map, one of the seminal books on epidemics.
EXTRA LIFE: A SHORT HISTORY OF LIVING LONGER will stream simultaneously with broadcast and be available on all station-branded PBS platforms, including PBS.org and the PBS Video app, available on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Samsung Smart TV and Chromecast.
EXTRA LIFE: A SHORT HISTORY OF LIVING LONGER is a production of Nutopia for PBS. The series is executive produced by Jane Root, Nicola Moody, Fiona Caldwell and Steven Johnson, and directed by Duncan Singh, Helen Sage, Tristan Quinn, David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg. Bill Gardner is the Executive in Charge for PBS.
Funding for EXTRA LIFE: A SHORT HISTORY OF LIVING LONGER is provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the New Venture Fund and PBS.
Nutopia is an award-winning television production company known for creating acclaimed, non-scripted series on a global scale. The UK and US based company is credited with creating the television genre known as the “mega-doc,” combining epic, motion picture-quality cinematography, action-driven content and prominent Hollywood actors to produce and star in the projects. The company, which was founded in 2008 by Jane Root, former President of Discovery Channel US and Controller of BBC2, and co-founder of Wall to Wall TV, has become synonymous with creating high-quality, notable content for buyers that include Netflix, Disney+, CNN, National Geographic, BBC, PBS, HBO Max and A+E Networks. Recent projects include “A World of Calm,” based on the meditation and sleep app from the billion-dollar tech company Calm, “Babies,” exploring the key developmental years in life, and Emmy Award-nominated “The World According to Jeff Goldblum.” Nutopia also produced, the much-honored National Geographic series “One Strange Rock”; the BBC/PBS co-production “Civilizations”; interactive series “The Great American Read”; and Emmy Award-winning series “How We Got to Now” and “America: The Story of the US.” Upcoming projects include “Limitless,” with Chris Hemsworth, and “Welcome to the Earth (working title)” with Will Smith for Disney+, and “Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer” for PBS.
PBS, with more than 330 member stations, offers all Americans the opportunity to explore new ideas and new worlds through television and digital content. Each month, PBS reaches over 120 million people through television and 26 million people online, inviting them to experience the worlds of science, history, nature and public affairs; to hear diverse viewpoints; and to take front row seats to world-class drama and performances. PBS’s broad array of programs has been consistently honored by the industry’s most coveted award competitions. Teachers of children from pre-K through 12th grade turn to PBS for digital content and services that help bring classroom lessons to life. Decades of research confirms that PBS’s premier children’s media service, PBS KIDS, helps children build critical literacy, math and social-emotional skills, enabling them to find success in school and life. Delivered through member stations, PBS KIDS offers high-quality educational content on TV – including a 24/7 channel, online at pbskids.org, via an array of mobile apps and in communities across America. More information about PBS is available at www.pbs.org, one of the leading dot-org websites on the internet, or by following PBS on Twitter, Facebook or through our apps for mobile and connected devices. Specific program information and updates for press are available at pbs.org/pressroom or by following PBS Pressroom on Twitter.