09 March 2008 by Published in: General musings 21 comments

We’re watching a modestly interesting documentary on the History Channel called “Axe Men”. It’s about lumberjacks in the Pacific Northwest. Once I got beyond wondering when they would sing Monty Python’s Lumberjack Song (they didn’t, by the way), I started wondering about a much bigger and more important question.

This is a routine documentary on contemporary events, the sort of thing that has long been the staple of the Discovery Channel or the National Geographic channel. It’s NOT history. What is this doing on the History Channel? Or “Ice Road Truckers”? Again, interesting, but not history.

I can remember a time when the History Channel actually showed quality history programming. It carried the excellent “Civil War Journal” series. It has done some really interesting programming on the presidents of the United States. Or “History’s Mysteries”, another favorite of mine. There was a time when this channel was history, 24/7/365, and that’s what made it unique. You could always find something that was purely historical and often really interesting on the History Channel.

Now, it’s the UFO/paranormal channel, with lots of of programs about Adolf Hitler and Nostradamus, and these stupid documentaries that have nothing to do with history. Now, I completely understand that television programming is a business and that networks are going to air what makes money for them. I get that. It makes sense.

Here’s the description of another new series:

Gangland, the new series on The History Channel, takes you inside prisons and on the streets of America to view the most violent and influential gangs in our modern times.

The key to that description is the word “modern”. Again, it’s contemporary stuff and NOT history.

However, why not just be honest about it and give up the charade that this is still supposed to be a network that carries legitimate, serious programming about history. Just change the name and stop defrauding the public as to the nature of the content by calling yourself a “history channel” when it is now far, far from being that.

I miss the real History Channel, and I despise the crap that has taken its place.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Sun 09th Mar 2008 at 10:46 pm

    E

    A very keen observation.

    I emailed History Channel a while back with the same general comment: the great WWII and other programming is disappearing, to be replaced by . . . well, material better suited for other channels.

    I can tell you what I think is happening. History is passing programming through to higher-rate subscription channels like the Military Channel. Recently, many programs that have appeared on that used to be on History, or, are more suitable to the latter channel.

    People need to email History and tell them they don’t like it a bit. Ice Road Truckers? Come on. More Rommel and Casear, please.

    — tps

  2. Sun 09th Mar 2008 at 10:48 pm

    T,

    Good idea. I think that I will forward the content of my blog post via e-mail, and I guess I will have to look into the Military Channel. As if I’m not already paying enough money to DirecTv each month……

    Eric

  3. Sun 09th Mar 2008 at 10:58 pm

    Eric,

    I think you’ll enjoy the Military Channel. It’s one of my more-viewed stations on a daily basis.

    Brett

  4. Mon 10th Mar 2008 at 8:41 am

    I don’t want to start naming names, but way back when the History Channel was young, and that guy had just “invented the Internet,” I was involved with some projects linked between the History Channel and America On Line. At first this seemed a fresh experience – a new media married with a new format on an older media. But in the end about the only thing to show for it all was my name in small print at the end of a credits sequence, and some swag from the History Channel (VHS videos and hats). This was of course the early 1990s, but already the offerings were so limited we called it the “Hitler Channel.” Civil War Journal and a few other “conversational history” documentaries added some flavor to the offerings. I thought they had something with “Battlefield Detectives” but that series appears lost. While I wince at episodes of “Monster Choppers Ax Ice Road UFO Hunters” which appear nightly, there have been some interesting format changes in the last couple of seasons. The “Dogfight” series format has worked well as has the “Lost Evidence” series. Both are more modern topics that work well with CGI. Now please let me get back to Hana Montana’s Dad telling us about the Hillbillies.

  5. Mike Nugent
    Mon 10th Mar 2008 at 9:58 am

    I agree that the offerings on THC have gone downhill for the most part. There are still a few worthwhile shows on but as has been noted, way too much stuff better suited for other networks. Monster Quest? Ice Road Truckers? Give me a break! I get the Military Channel too and find myself watching more on it than I do on THC. If I want to see something about UFOs I can always still watch X Files re-runs on the Sci-Fi Channel.

    Mike

  6. Mon 10th Mar 2008 at 11:06 am

    Glad other folks feel the same as I. Besides news, there was little else I watched on the 200+ friggin’ channels we get on DirecTV than the History Channel. Now, like the others, I watch more Military History (and the History International Channel sometimes has decent programming). But the garbage on HC lately has left me shaking my head.

    Good thing I taped all the old Civil War Journal shows when they ran.

    I’m going to send them an email too. Either go back to real history or change the name of the channel to reflect the current programming. We already have a SciFi Channel and a few I refer to collectively as the “Redneck Channels” so they’ll have to come up with another name :)

    J.D.

  7. Ptrostle
    Mon 10th Mar 2008 at 11:16 am

    Eric – While I agree with your assertions abouth the History Channel – might I also point out that you tend to get a bit grouchy when you’re under a yard or so of the white death from above?

  8. Mike Peters
    Mon 10th Mar 2008 at 12:16 pm

    Civil War Journal has been relegated to the Tues. morning 7 AM slot. Working second trick, I wish it was a little later in the day.

    There is a new series on the USS Enterprise, the most decorated ship of World War 2, that looks promising.

    Mike

  9. Paul Taylor
    Mon 10th Mar 2008 at 12:17 pm

    I use TIVO a lot and have created a “Civil War” keyword search to help when I’m setting up recordings for the next several weeks. IMO, the number of non-movie, Civil War-oriented history shows is way down in the past several months. Civil War Journal in particular seems to have vanished from the History Channel. Seasonal? Or the start of a trend?

    Paul

  10. Mon 10th Mar 2008 at 1:19 pm

    Mike,

    I watched the Battle of Midway episode of the USS Enterprise series and was really impressed. As Caswain mentioned earlier, the Dogfights series is also pretty interesting.

  11. Keith Toney
    Mon 10th Mar 2008 at 1:19 pm

    Hhmmm–seems this has been discussed elsewhere recently. couldn’t agree more–screw MTV, I want my History Channel back!
    Regards,
    Keith

  12. Mon 10th Mar 2008 at 7:34 pm

    Eric,

    We had the same conversation here yesterday, when I noticed HC was airing a show called “Saddam and the Third Reich”. Description said it “revealed the ties betwween individuals of the Third Reich and Saddam Hussein”. Which begs the question – is history by the Brothers Grimm better than no history at all? A sad state indeed.

  13. Karl
    Mon 10th Mar 2008 at 7:49 pm

    I couldn’t agree more Eric.
    The Learning Channel or Discovery would more appropriate venues for those programs.
    Obviously they aren’t getting the volume of viewers they would like and are resorting to other types of programs.
    I agree that if you can’t stick to what the theme of the channel is, then change it to something else.
    It’s a shame. I too watched the Axe Men last night.

    But why on the History Channel.

    An e-mail to them is in the works.
    Thanks for speaking out Eric.

    Karl

  14. Steve Basic
    Tue 11th Mar 2008 at 12:53 am

    Eric,

    Excellent post, and as to CW history on the channel; IIRC most of the stuff they presented on the channel came from the folks at Greystone. I may be and am probably wrong, but most of the programs aired are from outside and rarely have they produced programs on History by themselves.

    I did finally watch their 2 hour program on Sherman’s March, and why they felt that actors were needed to interpret what happened is beyond my intelligence.

    The way the channel has been going, am sure we will see a hour long program on the history of the toaster. Then again, all the e-mails you have all sent has doomed the history of the Basecat on earth, and had such high hopes for the success of the series which was gonna be called… “Base…That stinks!!!” :)

    Regards from the Garden State,

    Steve

  15. Tue 11th Mar 2008 at 10:47 am

    “Either go back to real history or change the name of the channel to reflect the current programming.” – JD

    How about, “History in the Making Channel?”

    PS – Real men do not watch MTV

  16. Alton Bunn
    Tue 11th Mar 2008 at 2:23 pm

    A good post, all too true sadly. The most bizzare thing of course was tuning in and finding Planet of the Apes being shown.

  17. Valerie Protopapas
    Tue 11th Mar 2008 at 4:05 pm

    Perhaps the folks in the History Channel discovered how little the average American – and especially YOUNGER Americans – know about history – theirs or anyone else’s. Furthermore, there seems little interest especially by the under 30 crowd in history and since these are the “demographics” that most channels – yes, even the ones without advertising – want to reach, they start to cast about to find something that will bring in an audience.

    I do not despair however. I do think that young people can become interested in history, but they need an appropriate approach. It is interesting to note that many very popular films are historical in nature whether it is recent history – Saving Private Ryan – or ancient history – The 300 – there is interest out there. Admittedly, there is a degree of myth, legend and fiction in these films, but there is a lot of that in what is taught as “history” as well.

    Perhaps the history channel needs to use some of the computer graphics that they are presently using in the programs on the WWII carrier Enterprise to interest the kids who see that as an extension of their “video games” technology.

    In any event, I wouldhope that the History Channel doesn’t succumb to a perceived lack of interest. On the other hand, I wish it would be a little more daring in bringing to the public legitimately researched programs which challenge the current historical “orthodoxy”. There’s an awful lot of “history” that has been and is being taught that is more myth than fact.

  18. Sun 16th Mar 2008 at 8:41 pm

    I usually record Civil War Journal and Unknown Civil War with my DVR. I tend to watch History International more, but that tends to be mostly European, Biblical, and Middle Eastern history. Which is good for me since I do like antiquity and the like. But still American history programs are lacking.

    If you’re looking for something to watch, you could always give Liberty’s Kids a try :) Some of the people they get to voice the characters sure are amusing choices.

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