Just watch the opening credits for this television show and tell me you are not totally, whole-heartedly pumped. All that action! That funky theme song! The counting backward!
If you were watching daytime PBS any time in the middle chunk of the 1980s, you might remember 3-2-1 Contact. Technically, it was a math-and-science show. But, practically, it was a documentary-adventure show. Viewers vicariously jumped out of airplanes, loop-de-looped on roller coasters, and went SCUBA diving and surfing. They learned about the physics of the perfect baseball pitch from the New York Mets and discovered techniques for best communicating with monkeys and computers.
A trip to a bubble festival became a way to explain surface tension. The thing is, a decent portion of that particular episode is just people playing with bubbles and talking about the ideal ingredients for the ultimate bubble solution. (Eventually they get around to the science behind a bubble’s spherical shape; but there’s a spirit of do-it-yourself experimentation throughout. “Sometimes you just have to try things out for yourself,” says one of the show’s hosts, a girl named Stephanie Yu.)
The show, a production of the Children’s Television Network, was built around removing classroom lessons from the school or lab environment. “Too many children think that scientists are all middle-aged white males in laboratory coats,” Edward Atkins, 3-2-1 Contact’s director of content, told The New York Times in 1983. “We want to introduce them to other kinds of scientists—women, minorities, people using science in daily life—without neglecting the middle-aged men in the laboratory coats.”