Thursday, March 31, 2016

History’s Present-Day Pablum

History's "Swamp People." Source: Google Images.
It’s been a month since the cable TV gods pulled the plug on H2, and little has changed with History.

It’s not that the past ain’t what it used to be. Rather, it’s History’s present-day programming that’s the problem.

Throughout the past four weeks, I’ve been meeting regularly with my clicker to find something on the tube to watch. More often than not, our efforts have been in vain, especially with History's shows. God bless DVR.

I’ve pressed my clicker’s buttons so many times I swear it’s cried No Más! more than once. I keep telling the poor thing to pipe down. Donald Trump might be listening.

Last month on this blog, I bemoaned H2’s passing and Viceland’s birth. (Click here for that little diatribe.) I thought some of H2’s better shows, Ancient Aliens, America UnearthedBrad Metzler’s Lost History, and Hangar 1: The UFO Files would find a home on History, the erstwhile History Channel, which achieved single-name status in 2008.

I was under the impression that if History absorbed some of H2’s lineup it could trim off the fat that is its reality TV shows. So far, that hasn’t been the case.

Instead, History has spent the past month airing repeats and mini marathons of its usual gang of idiots: Pawn Stars, Counting Cars, Swamp People, Billion Dollar Wreck (which is the best of the bunch), and the ultimate reality snoozer, American Pickers. These shows have about as much to do with history as Barney the Dinosaur. Come to think of it, Barney and his creepy grin were more interesting than most of what History is peddling to its viewers at the present time.

Sure, Pawn Stars might be interesting on a weekly basis. I’d like to know how much Rick Harrison would pay for a vintage Gibson guitar autographed by Jimmy Page. But a Pawn Stars marathon complete with Chumlee’s moronic musings? C’mon.

To be fair, History continues to air America: The Story of Us, a series that mixes terrific acting and commentary with top-notch computer-generated images. But aside from that, the station seems to have sold out to the reality genre, leaving history behind in the dust.

So where does one turn today for quality documentaries on a 24-hour basis? Wasn’t that the History Channel’s raison d'être when it was launched in 1995? 

I guess there’s the old standby, PBS, a favorite of mine since childhood. But PBS can’t devote its entire programming day to history; its executives got today’s kids to consider in the mornings and afternoons. In the evenings, the station has its eclectic mix of news, British comedy, Charlie Rose, Antiques Roadshow, Independent Lens and other programs for the reasonably intelligent. Every once in a while, PBS will air an American Experience series; on occasion, it will treat history junkies like me to the latest documentary from Ken Burns.

It’s not that History can’t tell a story well. The station’s 2014 miniseries, The World Wars, showed what it could accomplish when its programming suits put on their thinking caps to produce something of value. They aspired to create something special for their viewers. They can do it again.

Today, however, History gives us rednecks tagging alligators, Stevie Van Zandt’s long-lost brother restoring antique cars, and a couple of guys who rummage through other people’s garages and sheds in the hopes of making a buck or two. Clearly, ratings and money are the culprits behind this trash. So much for history; so much for screenwriting; so much for needs of the well-oiled human brain.

History’s viewers still yearn for a great story and history contains some of the best stories ever told. Maybe the station’s executives are biding their time until the fall when they will unveil a new season of shows for their faithful viewers who are fed up with the filler. One can only hope.

And speaking of hope, CNN’s The Eighties premieres tonight.

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