The show first aired in October 1, 1990, with MIT professor Woodie Flowers who served as the original host from 1990 to the spring of 1993. Actor Alan Alda became the permanent host starting in the fall season of 1993 and continued until the show ended in 2005. So the show was also billed as Alan Alda in Scientific American Frontiers. Alda's tenure has been notable for his humble and often humorous approach: in one memorable segment, he became car sick while driving an experimental, virtual reality vehicle. In 2005, Alda published his first round of memoirs, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: and Other Things I've Learned, published by Random House (ISBN1-4000-6409-0); in the book, he recalls his intestines becoming strangulated while on location in Chile for the show, an incident that nearly cost him his life since he was at the top of a mountain and it took time to get to a doctor. Finally he found one, who turned out to be a M*A*S*H fan. Further, the treatment (an end-to-end anastomosis following resection of the necrotic section) was familiar to Alda; the historical development of techniques for vascular anastomosis during the Korean war had featured in the show's scripts.
Most programs include about three short documentaries, but some shows follow a different pattern. The show has been popular among people interested in science and technology. Some early viewers of the program who were young at the time have ended up appearing as guests in later episodes, often stating that the program inspired them to continue their scientific pursuits.
In 1998 the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSICOP) episode "Beyond Science" hosted by Alan Alda was singled out by the Council for Media Integrity for its examination of the paranormal. This award was named in inspiration by Carl Sagan's book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. The Council is made up of by scientists, media and academics, all concerned with the "balanced portrayal of science"... and to "reward sound science television programming".