Smithsonian Channel to Air Polio Program "A Shot to Save the World" on Oct. 24

Issue Date: 
October 21, 2013

The Smithsonian Channel will broadcast the premiere of A Shot to Save the World, an hour-long television program that tells the story of the roles of a University of Pittsburgh research team and the Pittsburgh community in the development and success of the 1950s Salk polio vaccine.

The program, which will air at 8 p.m., Oct. 24, World Polio Day, is a revised and updated version of The Shot Felt ‘Round the World, an award-winning feature documentary coproduced by Pitt in association with the Steeltown Entertainment Project. The original film premiered at the University’s 2010 celebration of the Salk vaccine’s 55th anniversary.

The Smithsonian Channel picked up the documentary last year—edited it from 66 minutes to 45 minutes and added updated footage, recasting it for television broadcast as A Shot to Save the World. Pitt's Carl Kurlander, a Film Studies professor, was a coproducer, and many Pitt students assisted with the film's production.

The creation of the original documentary, The Shot Felt ‘Round the World, began in 2005 when Kurlander and several Pitt students filmed interviews for the University’s 50th anniversary of the Salk polio vaccine. Earlier in his career, Kurlander worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter and TV writer/producer. Together, he and the students captured unique footage of those who worked alongside Jonas Salk at Pitt—including Julius Youngner, Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry, Pitt School of Medicine—as well as of polio survivors and Pittsburgh polio pioneers who bravely offered their arms for the then-experimental vaccine. The footage was made into The Shot Felt ‘Round the World.

The documentary then traveled for special screenings to The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the Napa Valley Film Festival, the Three Rivers Film Festival, and the 2012 San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, where it won the Best Documentary Feature award.

The Smithsonian Channel's A Shot to Save the World connects the Salk vaccine’s genesis in Pittsburgh to present-day efforts to eradicate the disease completely and make the world, once and for all, polio free. Updated footage includes a rare film interview with Bill Gates, the philanthropist and chairperson of Microsoft, who has made polio eradication a priority of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is working with Rotary International, The World Health Organization, and other organizations to “end polio now.”

From its peak of affecting nearly 58,000 children in the United States during 1952, polio exists today in just three countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. The goal is to eradicate the disease from those three nations by 2018. To date, smallpox is the only infectious human disease to be eradicated completely, largely because of a decade-long World Health Organization endeavor that was launched in 1967 by D.A. Henderson, now a Pitt professor of public health and medicine and a distinguished scholar in UPMC’s Center for Biosecurity.

A Shot to Save the World is a great Pittsburgh story, but it also reminds us of what is possible when we all work together to defeat a common enemy, a message that seems more timely now than ever,” said Kurlander, adding that the eradication of polio “will not only prove that diseases can be eliminated from the planet completely, but it will also leave the infrastructure in place to eradicate other diseases.” 

Along with Kurlander, Pitt’s The Shot Felt ‘Round the World was coproduced by Laura Davis of Steeltown Entertainment Project, and WQED Multimedia Pittsburgh in association with Pitt and 1905 Productions. It was directed, written, and edited by Tjardus Greidanus; Stephanie Dangel Reiter was its executive producer; and Jodi S. Klebick was the executive for Steeltown Entertainment Project.

A Shot to Save the World is directed by Greidanus, coproduced by Kurlander and Davis, with co-executive producers Stephanie Dangel and Peter Hamilton, for the Smithsonian Channel.