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Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer

Airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m., May 11-June 1 (Four Parts)


Discover the story of a public health revolution that doubled the human lifespan.

New Four-Part Series Explores the Life-Extending Role of Science, Medicine and Public Health

EXTRA LIFE: A SHORT HISTORY OF LIVING LONGER, a new four-part series from Nutopia 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, airs Tuesdays, May 11-June 1 at 8:00 p.m. on Southern Oregon PBS, and streams via and the PBS Video app.

Set in the context of today’s COVID-19 crisis, this series 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 under a century.

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

The series is particularly sensitive to the cultural blind spots that have 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. 

“Now more than ever, we need powerful storytelling that captures and explains the achievements in public health and medicine over the past few centuries,” says Johnson. “The fact that we have doubled life expectancy may well be the single most important development in modern history.” 

"The revolution in medicine and public health that has taken place over the past three centuries is one of the greatest achievements of all time,” says Olusoga. “The series is a history of unsung heroes and forgotten pioneers whose incredible stories deserve to be better known." 

Each episode will explore one aspect of public health that has played a central role in our battle to live longer.


Episode One (Tuesday, May 11 at 8 pm): 

“Vaccines”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 (Tuesday, May 18 at 8 pm): 

“Data” 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 Three (Tuesday, May 25 at 8 pm): 

“Medicine” focuses on the more recent medical inventions that combat illness directly, particularly antibiotics, and the development of antiviral 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 Four (Tuesday, June 1 at 8 pm): 

“Behavior”examines the importance of public engagement during a health crisis, from the discovery that the simple act hand washing could save lives in a 19th Century Viennese maternity hospital —to face masks and lockdowns used to combat the Spanish flu 100 years ago, along with what we are experiencing today.


EXTRA LIFE: A SHORT HISTORY OF LIVING LONGER is a multi-platform collaboration. The series will be accompanied by an extensive education outreach component in partnership with The Pulitzer Center, which will distribute resources to schools and colleges.