California State University East Bay

The Pioneer

Alumnus publishes book about popular shows

Cal+State+East+Bay+Alum+Eric+Niderost+posed+with+his+book+%E2%80%9CSonnets+and+Sunspots%E2%80%9D+last+month+at+Chabot+College.
Cal State East Bay Alum Eric Niderost posed with his book “Sonnets and Sunspots” last month at Chabot College.

Cal State East Bay Alum Eric Niderost posed with his book “Sonnets and Sunspots” last month at Chabot College.

Photo | Sonia Waraich

Photo | Sonia Waraich

Cal State East Bay Alum Eric Niderost posed with his book “Sonnets and Sunspots” last month at Chabot College.

Sonia Waraich,
Campus Editor

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Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson have become household names as interest in shows like “Cosmos” and “Bill Nye the Science Guy” have increased.

But Eric Niderost, Cal State East Bay alumnus and history professor at Chabot College, said the template for these shows was created long ago in a series of nine films created for AT&T.

In the late 50s a show known as “The Bell Laboratory Science Series,” covereral topics from the five senses and the circulatory system to time and the sun.

Niderost captured the history of the Bell Science Films and particularly Frank Baxter, the charismatic host that brought educational television programs to life, in his recently published book “Sonnets and Sunspots.”

“His knack was to take complex subjects and, in a very friendly non-threatening way, get the average person to understand them,” Niderost said.

According to Niderost science shows today contain the same basic elements as the Bell Science Films, except perhaps with better special effects such as a charismatic host, a great storyline, superb animation, easy to understand facts, and humor.

Frank Capra, the Hollywood director best known for “It’s a Wonderful Life,” who wrote, directed and produced the first four episodes of the series, carefully put the elements together. Warner Brothers produced the last four.

By the early 80s, much of the information had become dated, but some of the information was still ahead of its time.

In Meteora: The Unchained Goddess, Baxter warned viewers of global warming as early as 1958.

The series was initially shown on television, but “enjoyed a new life in 16 millimeter film,” said Niderost.

“Anywhere from grade school to middle school to high school to even some colleges courses showed these films for over 30 years,” Niderost said.

When he was in middle school, Niderost said he remembered seeing Baxter on 16-millimeter film in science class.

Niderost said he writes articles for popular history magazines routinely; so writing the book on the Bell Science Films seemed natural since Baxter had left such a large impression on him.

“I remembered him so well. Even though it’s close to 50 years [ago] now, it’s a wonderful memory for me,” Niderost said. “No words can express the impact this guy had on a whole generation.”
Niderost studied history at CSUEB, receiving his Bachelor of Arts in 1971 and his Master of Arts in 1981.

He has been teaching American History at Chabot College since 1987.

“Sonnets and Sunspots” can be purchased online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or BearManor Media for $19.95.

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Alumnus publishes book about popular shows