Mental Engineering is a public television series where show creator and host John Forde leads a panel discussion featuring critical and humorous analysis of TV commercials. The show originated as a public-access television cable TV program on the Saint Paul Neighborhood Network in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1997.
Nationally-known comedians and satirists frequently appear as panelists. Past guests include Al Franken, Lizz Winstead, Sam Simon, Greg Proops, Louis C.K., Paula Poundstone, Merrill Markoe, Naomi Klein, and Jeff Cesario.
Mental Engineering is considered by some sources to be the first public-access television show to air nationally. By September 2001, the program was airing on stations covering 41% of the U.S., most notably by public TV outlets WGBH in Boston and WNET in New York City.
An episode following Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002 aired on public television stations capable of reaching 85% of the population of the United States. Super Commercials: A Mental Engineering Special featured nationally-known TV personalities Aisha Tyler and Lizz Winstead along with guests from Minnesota.
By the end of 2008 140 episodes had been produced.
Reviews and recognition
The series received positive reviews from several news outlets, including the New York Times, which called it "brilliant." Bill Moyers called it "the most interesting weekly half hour of social commentary and criticism on television," and PBS host Charlie Rose interviewed Forde on the ‘Charlie Rose’ show.
Early funding assistance came from the Lutheran Brotherhood, a fortune 500 non-profit life insurance company that is now part of Thrivent Financial, and from PBS. Seeking broader funding, the show suspended production for 2003-2004, and returned to public TV in 2005.
Two somewhat similar television shows aired on public TV stations in the 1960s: Public Broadcast Laboratory and Your Dollar's Worth, both sponsored by the Ford Foundation.
The Gruen Transfer, a similar program deconstructing advertisements, was launched by the Australian public television network in 2008. The show is currently being marketed by Fox Look under the name "The Big Sell".
- Stephanie Lash (September 4, 2000). Forde's ad literacy, humor fight against consumer lust. Current.
- (January 28, 2002). PBS goes for Mental Engineering on Super Bowl Sunday. Current.
- Catherine Reid Day (September 2001). One Cultural Creative's Journey through the Between. EDGE News.
- Brian Lambert (November 12, 2000). Ad Nauseam: With healthy skepticism, St. Paul's Mental Engineering bites the advertising hand that feeds most of TV programming. Saint Paul Pioneer Press.
- Neal St. Anthony (October 3, 2005). Neal St. Anthony: Deconstructing advertisements. Star Tribune.