Go on a Journey Through 300 Years of Medical Innovation with “Extra Life”

Go on a Journey Through 300 Years of Medical Innovation with “Extra Life”

Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer, a new four-part series 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, is coming to PBS. The series airs Tuesdays at 8pm starting May 11 on CET, ThinkTV16 and the station livestreams. It will also be available to stream on-demand on the PBS Video App.

Set in the context of today’s COVID-19 crisis, Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer 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 less than a century.

While the series features many leading public health authorities and scientists on the front lines of the current pandemic, Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer examines the bigger picture and sparks a global conversation about how we have learned to save lives. The series explores how the pioneering approaches and innovative medical triumphs of the past provided a blueprint for our future in the battle to live longer.

The series is particularly sensitive to the cultural blind spots that 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.  Each episode will explore one aspect of public health that has played a central role in our battle to live longer.

Learn more:

Episode One: “Vaccines”
Tuesday, May 11, at 8pm on CET and ThinkTV16
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: “Medical Drugs”
Tuesday, May 18, at 8pm on CET and ThinkTV16
Focuses on the more recent medical inventions that combat illness directly, particularly antibiotics, and the development of anti-viral 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 Three: “Data”
Tuesday, May 25, at 8pm on CET and ThinkTV16
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 Four: “Behavior”
Tuesday, June 1, at 8pm on CET and ThinkTV16
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.