Pop pop pop.
I’m standing in the parking lot of a tourist-friendly gun range tucked behind the Las Vegas Strip. The kind of place that advertises with big signs that here, you can fire an “actual machine gun” at a zombie or Osama Bin Laden target. A pink Hummer loaded with a bachelorette and her gaggle has just pulled up, and the loudest sound around is an unyielding string of machine gun shells going off on the other side of the wall, with a thick layer of concrete serving as the only defense between me and the line of fire.
Pop pop pop.
But never mind that. Because for the first (and presumably last) time in my life, the sound of an actual AK-47 is the last thing on my mind. That’s because, directly above me, in a sight that will be familiar to any number of cartoon characters seconds before they walk away with an oversized head lump, a crane is holding a giant piano some 100 feet in the sky, along with a skull-crushing bowling ball, and weapons-grade javelin.
Tim Shaw, host of National Geographic’s None of the Above, pulls a rope, and the three items come crashing to the ground in a Loony Toons-esque explosion of wood chips and busted piano keys.
“Oh my god, that was just amazing!” Shaw says. “We have just witnessed a piano, a bowling ball, fall from 100 feet. With the most amazing noise ever. Look at the state of this thing. That piano looks fantastic!”
Perhaps alone amongst National Geographic hosts, Tim Shaw also happens to be Britain’s premier radio bad boy—his on-air behavior has gotten him fired from 13 different British radio stations over the years. Yep: A shock jock who was just too real for nearly every major broadcaster in Britain... or they just had a problem when his broadcasts would feature what the BBC described as, “offensive language, bestiality, and descriptions of pedophilia.” Fun fact: In 1999, Shaw and his broadcaster were slapped with the largest fine for radio misconduct in European history.
Of course, this all makes it especially awesome to see Shaw cross the pond and pop up on Nat Geo—a TV station known more for its science than its slander. Which is fitting, since Shaw has another talent: He happens to be a trained mechanical engineer who grew up blowing shit up for fun.
On None of the Above, Shaw basically acts as a cross between Mr. Wizard and Walter White. Armed with the power of science, he shoots homemade rockets, drops things from heights, and generally puts the “don’t” in “don’t try this at home.” Before each experiment, Shaw asks a rotating panel of civilians (and viewers at home) what they think will happen. Winner gets bragging rights.
The show recently aired a couple of well-received initial episodes, and a full season is currently in production. Ultimately it will serve as a sort of complement to the neuroscience-focused Brain Games—another lean-forward Nat Geo show that also encourages viewers to play along, Jeopardy-style.
“From a young age, I’ve been experimenting with things that go bang and boom and blowing myself up and ending up with big scars on my head from accidents and jumping off stupidly high heights and asking myself ‘What happens if?’” Shaw says. “This show is just an extension of my life.”
So what is Shaw’s dream experiment?
“I want to make a skyhook.”
“You mean like in Bioshock: Infinite?” I ask.
“Yes,” he says. “I want to be hanging from something that isn’t attached to something else. I’ve worked out a way of making it work with superconductors and magnets, and I want to do it on my show.”