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Mission Unstoppable Makes Television History

Executive Producers: Madeline Di Nonno, GDIGM, CEO; Anna Wenger, Litton Entertainment; Geena Davis, GDIGM Founder; and Lyda Hill. Credit: Brian Knott.

Groundbreaking series features female STEM influencers throughout the production

By Mary Ellen Holden

Mission Unstoppable, is just that – unstoppable. The series, which debuted last weekend on the CBS Saturday morning lineup, is the brainchild of Lyda Hill, a Dallas-based entrepreneur, and philanthropist who believes “science is the answer to solve our world’s problems.” Nicole Small, CEO, Lyda Hill Philanthropies explained, “We invested in Mission Unstoppable, a collaboration with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media (GDIGM) and Litton Entertainment, to feature trailblazing women on the cutting edge of science in a new, fun and innovative television series. We hope that by spotlighting these amazing female role models in media, we will change the narrative and inspire young girls to open their eyes to STEM careers.”

Mission Unstoppable is the first STEM-centric television series created and funded by, for and about women. The series is Executive Produced by Academy-Award winning actor and advocate Geena Davis, Madeline Di Nonno (CEO of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media), Miranda Cosgrove (iCarly) and Anna Wenger, a four-time Emmy-nominated producer. It is also the first television series produced by IF/THEN, a Lyda Hill Philanthropies initiative grounded in the belief that “IF we support a woman in STEM, THEN she can change the world.” Small noted, “We believe that having diverse STEM innovators at the table is key to building a better world. We share the Institute’s beliefs about how important it is to have women represented in media as they inspire young girls and women to pursue diverse interests and passions in real life. The reality is that stories of women in STEM are not being told, and young girls are not seeing themselves in these fields. However, this is a problem we can fix. We know this lack of storytelling is not due to a lack of stories. We are working with partners like Project Runway, Teen Vogue and YouTube to reach girls in unexpected places. Mission Unstoppable is the perfect vehicle to advance IF/THEN’s mission to present young girls with women STEM role models.”

In 2018, IF/THEN commissioned the Institute to conduct a ten-year content analysis of STEM characters in entertainment media and to survey young girls and women. The results published in Portray Her: Representations of Women STEM Characters in Media revealed the discouraging facts about how and how often women STEM characters appear in television and online. The report’s recommendations became a framework for Mission Unstoppable which features at least three diverse women STEM professionals in every episode. This is another industry first! Each week, host Miranda Cosgrove and an all-female leadership team, comprised of female STEM pioneers demonstrate how STEM activities and careers are fun, engaging and accessible. Over 100 AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadors, some featured on the series, broaden the show’s storytelling platform.

Here’s an inside look at the series from Showrunner and Emmy-nominated producer, Anna Wenger.
Mary Ellen: You have amazing credentials, what was it about Mission Unstoppable that excited you?

Anna Wenger: It was 100% the subject matter coupled with the opportunity to help promote underserved and underrepresented female heroes in STEM who are changing the world; it is shocking that nobody knows about them. The most important thing this show can do is simplify the science, break stereotypes and communicate to a broad, diverse audience that the sciences are relevant and fun.

Mary Ellen: How did your experience in narrative and sketch comedy (including Funny or Die) enhance the series?

Anna: The major challenge we faced is the perception that STEM is daunting and inaccessible to the masses, particularly women. The truth is that STEM is for everyone; despite the stronghold white men have had on it for so long. No one should be intimidated by science based on race, gender or nationality. My storytelling experience is based mainly in comedy, so that helps me to explain things that are not ordinary (like going to a rocket launch) in a way that is easy to understand and resonates with regular people. I generate interest through simple, straight forward messaging which helps the world to connect. Everyone enjoys comedy, so it is beneficial to work it into the show as often as we can. To do this show right, we need to capture a complex and complicated subject for a regular audience and make it fun, entertaining and engaging.

Mary Ellen: What makes this show unique?

Anna: I’ve never seen a show that focuses on women and science and then makes it funny and fun… accessible and hands-on. Mr. Wizard and Bill Nye the Science Guy are great, but they’re white men. I think we’re making television history and I love that!

Mary Ellen: How did working with Geena Davis, Madeline Di Nonno and the Institute support your goals for the series?

Anna: It’s awesome! Essentially, I was given the gift of these two powerhouse women who have dedicated themselves to achieving gender parity and accurate representation onscreen. It is extremely beneficial for me to have the power of the Institute in my corner as its robust portfolio of research proves that diverse and high-quality portrayals of women and girls are quite simply missing from children’s media.  This phenomenon is most apparent in STEM. GDIGM research studies like The Scully Effect, and Portray Her have provided me with an amazing foundation for Mission Unstoppable. I think that a key message of our show and the goal of the Institute is one and the same, it’s just the perfect pairing.

It’s a very rare and special person who does something that no one like them has ever done before because most people need to see role models and to see that it is possible for them to accomplish something and to be willing to pursue it. Geena says, “If they can see it, they can be it” and our series encourages them to do both.

Mary Ellen: Mission Unstoppable not only empowers innovators and the next generation of STEM pioneers onscreen – it encourages interactive experiences off-screen. Why?

Anna: You don’t automatically need to be the woman who runs the MARS Rover program. We believe it’s necessary to demonstrate the different levels of science, technology, engineering, and math to the masses because people don’t realize that you can do science on your own at home and learn. For example, coconut oil liquefies at a very high temperature. So, if you heat chocolate chips and mix it with coconut oil and pour it over ice cream it immediately creates a hard shell. It’s fun and you can do it with your friends or family, the experience becomes a gateway to broader interests and new experiments.

We are also creating original content for digital platforms as it’s important to engage our target the way they live.

Mary Ellen: Who is the target audience for Mission Unstoppable?

Anna: Our primary target is girls ages 10-15. With that said, we want to appeal to girls before they hit 10 years as they are just as interested in STEM as boys up until that age and then their interest level drops. As Showrunner, I want people of all ages to watch Mission Unstoppable and be entertained and intrigued. We need to convince the nation that girls can do anything. We don’t want to simply put the burden on the shoulder of a 10-15-year-old girl to change the world; we need everyone to understand that there is a place for girls and women in STEM and that they’re already out there doing these things.

Mary Ellen: What do you see as the future of children’s programming?

Anna: This is my opinion as I don’t have data to back it up. I believe that kids can get very suspect of an absurdly perfect world which is presented to them in so many children’s programs. I believe that a Pollyanna world not only hinders them in life in general, but it also keeps our society from progressing.

Truthful television that’s age-appropriate is the right thing that we can do for them and our society. I think television is headed in that direction. We’re learning that it takes all kinds of worlds.

Mary Ellen: What advice do you have for female creators entering this industry?

Anna: The best thing for anybody to do is find other people who believe in them and love what they’re doing. This is especially important for women. It’s more fun and effective when everybody lifts each other.

Mary Ellen: What are your goals for Mission Unstoppable? What does success look like?

Anna: On behalf of everyone involved, we hope that Mission Unstoppable empowers existing women STEM professionals, changes the narrative for future generations, and inspires young girls to pursue careers in STEM. These women are exemplary role models for the next generation of STEM professionals. We want to be sure everyone, especially young girls, know about these women and their stories.

IF SHE CAN SEE IT, SHE CAN BE IT