Thursday, June 05, 2008

Do Over! History Channel Edition

Okay, so the Doctor tells you saving mankind in the distant future entails doing the History Channel right, so he takes you for a spin in the TARDIS and manages to give you absolute control over the network so that you can take out all those crazy shows about alien conspiracies... oh, wait...

All right, I didn't think my premise through. But you've been given the chance to redo the History Channel from the ground up and prevent the network decay we see today. What would you do?

Some of my ideas:

1. Don't get "The Hitler Network" nickname: Yes, WWII was a very important chunk of history and is still fresh in the current generations' collective mind. Yes, it's very well documented. But it's not the whole of history.

2. None of this "Ice Road Truckers" stuff: My first question when I saw that was "What does this have to do with history?" I could maybe understand a one-shot special about the significance of freight in those regions, whatever it may be, but I don't see a series.

3. Dump the woo. No aliens, no endless specials about mythology. I remember some special on angels with some woman commenting on how conflicting the lore on angels was. So's the lore on werewolves. That's because they're fictional and not subject to historical science. Leave the mythology to how it affects the real world, i.e. who got inspired to do what atrocity.

4. Make specials on how historians actually do stuff. History is a science, and more science education in the media would be appreciated. Too many woos out there seem to think that just having something in print makes it true.

5. Keep some of the geek stuff: I'm talking about some of the specials they had on the history of sci-fi and "Superheroes Unmasked." They put the entertainment in historical context, so we could see how life imitated art and vice-versa. There is, of course, a limit.

6. Do some shows on other parts of the world. Mostly I see stuff that's America- and Euro-centric. I'd like to see some shows on the history of other regions, and sometimes deeper into their past than their cool parts. From some shows I've seen, you'd think Japan sprang into existence sometime in the Edo period. I could also use some enlightenment in the area of Africa's history, too.


Tom Foss said...

I wouldn't mind shows on mythology and religion and woo and whatnot from a historical perspective. Anthropological studies on what people believe(d) is interesting and certainly valid history. The problem comes when you try to examine the myths as though they were history. "History of the Bible" would be interesting, "The Bible as History" is retarded. History Channel swung the wrong way with that and never looked back.

I think the biggest and best change to the History Channel would be to put historians and anthropologists at the top of the ladder, a quasi-peer review system. No program airs without their approval.

Anonymous said...

What the History Channel needs is actual history, with all the complications, ambiguities, and academic disagreements intact. Get behind the big names and the big events and look at the context.

Of course, that will make it somewhat difficult to wrap everything up into an engaging narrative that only occupies 45 minutes, but that's just tough. History isn't neat, and it wasn't written for television.

Anonymous said...

I've always thought that a proper history "special" would instead be a whole series. Their "the presidents" series was a good first try at that sort of thing. Each episode could focus on different aspects and certain conflicts in understanding of things, and if there's not enough time to rap up that episode's subject, that's what "to be continued" is for.

As for the geek lore, I'll agree that the history of comic books was interesting, and so was the history of video games, BUT they crossed a line when they made the Star Wars special. That wasn't about the history of Star Wars at all but rather a bunch of strange people going on and on about how cool the lightsabers were and the occasional scientist saying "well I GUESS we could make that actually work sort of if we did this...".

Oh, and on that note what's with all the strange random people?

I have seen a history of cereal commercials (which played out more like an ADVERTISEMENT of cereal, another critical point against some of their specials where they really seem to have more or less been hired by whatever product company they are doing a "history" on) in which they had someone who clearly was not old enough to have actually seen the original Coocoo puffs commericals shouting "coocoo for cocoa puffs!" all excited. Why do they do this? What is the point of showing FIRST the thing you want to make a point on and then showing a random person quoting exactly what we were directly shown? Who ARE these people anyway? If you have a VIDEO of something, don't stick a random person NEXT TO that video shot explaining that someone said the very thing we are listening to them say.

Don said...

I have to take issue with a minor point: their history of video games show.

It was and interesting idea, but I knew as soon as I heard about it it would be a disaster akin to SpikeTV's video game awards.

It wasn't quite that bad, but it was close. I can understand inaccuracies or mistakes or flat-out misconceptions when working with history that's hundreds of years old. The video games show, however, went back to the late 70s and still managed to be wrong half the time. I can't remember everything that pissed me off about it except their coverage of Leisure Suit Larry: they showed footage of the VGA remake of the first game, claimed it was the original release, and then interviewed Al Lowe about it in what can only be termed an insult to his work.

I remember myriad timeline inaccuracies made to support the themes they were trying to support (Genesis came out after the SNES?), I remember so much time spent on Sega and Microsoft and so little on Nintendo and Sony that I began to believe that the first two had donated copious amounts of money to keep the other two out...I just really didn't like that special.

Tom Foss said...

in which they had someone who clearly was not old enough to have actually seen the original Coocoo puffs commericals shouting "coocoo for cocoa puffs!" all excited. Why do they do this? What is the point of showing FIRST the thing you want to make a point on and then showing a random person quoting exactly what we were directly shown?

As near as I can tell, it started with VH1 and "I Love the [Decade]." It's supposed to be clever and funny. It rarely is (but that doesn't stop VH1 from flogging that brown stain that used to be a horse).