The Nation's Pulse

Down to a Science

Eleventh Hour is a new television drama with a surprisingly conservative take on bioethical issues.

By 3.30.09

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There's not a lot out there that specifically appeals to conservatives when it comes to television drama. Sure, there are whispers of ancient politicos on Lost and terrorists get what they have coming to them on 24. But for conservatives who want a break from watching Kiefer Sutherland shoot someone in the thigh every thirty seconds, there is Eleventh Hour. The new CBS series earned some of the highest ratings in its time slot and is both provocative and prudent in its approach to the ethical dilemmas confronting science.

Based on the British miniseries by the same name, Eleventh Hour follows Dr. Jacob Hood -- a biophysicist and "special science advisor to the government" -- as he and a pretty blonde sidekick swoop into thwart scientists pushing the bioethical envelope so before the clock strikes midnight. The show stars Rufus Sewell as Hood, that bronze-skinned British hunk with a mass of black curly hair, laser-sharp cheekbones, and a raspy voice sure to make any woman devour even the most boring, science-laden jargon he lays on his viewers with ease.

A common theme is that science can do great harm when it isn't restrained by morality. Even the show's website proclaims: "Hood is dogged in his pursuit of those who would abuse and misuse scientific discoveries and breakthroughs for their own gain. His passion and crusade is to protect the substance of science from those with nefarious motives."

The show is not always politically correct in its choice of villains. Several weeks ago, an episode aired on mercury poisoning. After looking into a few milk companies, Hood found the source was a contaminated lake -- intentionally poisoned by an environmental extremist to bring attention to the dangers of mercury. Another episode explored genetic engineering -- a scientist was doing experimental testing on a group of military soldiers which would make them kill on command, with no moral conscience to give them pause. Still another highlighted biological terrorism, this time by a group of European teenagers. who try to kill their victims in the name of Allah with biological weapons.

The most intriguing episodes have been about reproductive cloning, in which a scientist named "Geppetto" conducts cloning operations and is finally caught towards the end of the season. In every episode, Hood shows both a healthy respect for science and the ethical boundaries that must constrain scientists. Hood warns against "playing God" at a time when scientists are pushing for greater freedom to clone.

That hasn't stopped people from citing the show while cheering the Brave New World. The website "Eleventh Hour Facts" -- a project of BIO, the Biotechnology Industry organization -- is solely dedicated to discussing the "facts, the science and the real-life people portrayed on Eleventh Hour." The site declares: "The reality of biotechnology is dramatic and intense, and the discoveries that result are revolutionary. These discoveries are curing debilitating diseases, extending the lives of patients and improving quality of life." Eleventh Hour doesn't exactly contradict this, but such statements fail to capture the program's biotech caution.

Eleventh Hour's high ratings are no doubt in part at least because of Jerry Bruckheimer's magic touch. The man helped make hits out of CSI and Without a Trace. The star producer's involvement could also explain Eleventh Hour's conservative tilt: Bruckheimer is a conservative who supported President George W. Bush, donated to John McCain's campaign, and has regularly given money to other GOP candidates. The subtle conservatism of his new project may be his latest contribution.

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About the Author

Nicole Russell writes from Northern Virginia.