Bruce Nash's Modern Marvel
A 500-episode idea can come out of nowhere. Just ask Bruce Nash, the prolific producer whose many TV credits include the cable staple that is "Modern Marvels.
Nash created the unscripted series in 1994. After a brief run on A&E Network, it's been a staple of History's daytime and primetime sked. Earlier this year, the show logged its 500th episode, prompting Nash to remember his visit to the St. Louis' Gateway Arch that inspired the concept.
It happened while Nash was on a book promotion tour in 1986. During his stop in St. Louis, he visited the riverfront architectural wonder that commemorates Thomas Jefferson and the westward expansion of the U.S.
"Inside the arch they had a documentary about the men and women who sacrificed to build this amazing architectural achievement. I was so moved by it I wrote down 'modern marvels' on a slip of paper and put it in my pocket," Nash recalls.
He tried to sell the concept as a book that would examine the how, the why and the who of extraordinary things like the Gateway Arch, Mount Rushmore and Hoover Dam. But there were no takers. By the early 1990s, when Nash had moved to L.A. to focus on TV, he found a receptive ear for the "Modern Marvels" concept in Hearst Entertainment exec Gerry Abrams, who thought it was a fit for Hearst's A&E cabler.
Nash produced the pilot and a few of the early episodes. He knew they'd found the heart of the show when they interviewed an old man who had worked on Mt. Rushmore in his youth.
"He talked about working on (Rushmore) and how much he loved being part of the making of it. And then he said 'I just wish for once someone would say all the names of the people who worked on it.' And in the episode after he said that we did a smash cut to an aerial shot of Mt. Rushmore with all the names superimposed," Nash says. "It was really emotional, and really heartfelt. It showed that these things are not just steel and brick and stone, but these things are about the people who made them. That's what made the show work."
Nash hasn't had any involvement with "Modern Marvels" in years -- although it was his idea, A&E and History retained all rights. But he has been gratified by the fact that you can't go too many hours without coming across an episode on History's sked. And he's impressed by the number of resumes that come across his desk with "Modern Marvels" credits.
"It just keeps going and going," Nash marvels. "I wish every show I did was on for 17 years."
By Cynthia Littleton, "Variety"
Printed: Sun., March 27, 2011, Los Angeles