Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The History Channel loses its mind

Mark Burnett, best known for producing the reality TV series Survivor, will make a series out of the Bible for the History Channel.
The series will combine live action with computer-generated imagery to retell stories ranging from Noah and the Ark to Exodus to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. It will not be a documentary but rather a scripted, acted drama.
A drama? A channel supposedly devoted to history is airing a drama? And a drama based on a work whose historical accuracy is, shall we say, not well substantiated?

I understand why some deride the network as "the Hitler Channel": in the past, the network has aired a lot of World War II-related material. I happen to like that period of history, but it's an awfully narrow slice of time (and space: the shows have tended to focus exclusively on the role of the U.S.) on which to hang an entire channel. There's a lot of room for improvement and variety -- call it five thousand years' and an entire planet's worth.

But instead of surveying the history of all of humanity, the History Channel has chosen to go down an unfathomable path. More than a few of its shows dabble (or wallow) in paranormal nonsense: "Ancient Aliens," "Armageddon," "The Bible Code: Predicting Armageddon," "MonsterQuest," "MysteryQuest," "Nostradamus Effect," "UFO Hunters." I can barely muster the energy to list all the dopey "reality" shows infesting the schedule: "American Pickers," "Ax Men," "Ice Road Truckers," "IRT Deadliest Roads," "Madhouse," "Mounted in Alaska," "Pawn Stars," "Swamp People," "Top Gear," "Top Shot." Then there are the purely silly things, like "How Bruce Lee Changed the World," "Mega Disasters," "Stan Lee's Superhumans," "Star Wars Tech," and "Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed." (I loved Star Wars, but come on.)

That's an astonishing amount of time and money dedicated to utter ahistorical foolishness. And even some of the channel's best shows have little to do with history: "Life After People," "Modern Marvels," "Underwater Universe," "The Universe."

(The network lists its shows on its Web site.)

The History Channel is not alone in having a name that is no longer suitable to its programming. American Movie Classics and Music Television, to name but two, have abandoned large chunks of their schedules to programming at which their names never hint. But AMC was cut off from a huge number of films locked up by its competitor, Turner Movie Classics, so it had no choice but to throw the dice and hope for the best. MTV's youth orientation requires it to recast itself periodically to stay relevant. What is the History Channel's excuse for its steady drift toward mentally enfeebling dreck?

I'd like to see truth in advertising. How about rechristening the History Channel "The Mystery Channel," referring to its odd preoccupation with the supernatural? Or what about "The Hysteria Channel," since it seems to have an obsession with disasters? Or maybe "the Manufactured History Channel," since so much of its programming consists of cheap, emptyheaded faux-reality shows?

Just stop pretending the channel is interested in history.

No comments:

Post a Comment