Precious Little History on The History Channel.

Jan 03


I’m a history buff. Have been since I was a kid. History was my favorite class throughout my school years. I prefer reading about history (especially from the nineteenth century onward) and enjoy historical documentaries and films.

I was thrilled when history specialty channels debuted in the late-1990s in North America. Finally, a couple of channels for all my favorite historical films, TV shows and documentaries. No more channel-surfing trying to find something on PBS, CBC or A&E.

For over ten years The History Channel in the United States and History Television in Canada fulfilled the viewing needs of this history junkie.

What the hell do they have to do with "history".

What the hell do they have to do with “history”.

But in recent years, especially since the two channels came under the same licensing agreement, History (as its now called) is increasingly lacking in actual historical programs. It’s now filled with “reality show” about lumberjacks, vintage car restorers, pawn shop owners, antique hustlers, ice road truckers, swamp people and gold miners.

Their only connection to “history” is either their occupations have longstanding historical ties, or they deal in restoring and selling historical artifacts.  It’s not the same thing, however, as programming which deals with actual history.

The sad truth is The History Channel had to go with these reality shows because real history shows, films and documentaries just don’t pull in the viewers and the advertising dollars like reality shows do. It all comes down to revenue.

I understand it, as that’s the nature of the television business. That’s why there’s precious little arts and plenty of dubious entertainment on A&E (“Arts & Entertainment”) and very little learning on TLC (“The Learning Channel”), unless it’s to learn about the habits of poor white trash, wanna-be fashion model toddlers and their overbearing mothers, the daily lives of midgets or saying yes to a stupidly expensive wedding dress.

These things sell. They draw viewers and boost revenue.

Sadly, however, it comes at the expense of the programming which once launched those channels. A&E used to contain as many shows about the arts as they did in entertainment, and the latter was usually interesting stuff like stand-up comedy, biographies about famous people or historical documentaries before the History Channel debuted. TLC used to be the cousin of the Discovery Channel, where there were fascinating shows about science and culture.

Sadly, by adopting the format of reality shows with tenuous ties to history, The History Channel is getting as far away from its subject as they possibly can while still calling themselves broadcasters of historical content.

Real historical programming usually appears in the mornings, after which they switch to the reality shows throughout the afternoons and evenings. That’s fine, I suppose, if you’re a history buff who is retired, or works evening/night shifts, or suffers from insomnia. For everyone else, it sucks.

During prime time, there might be an actual hour devoted to an program dealing with actual history. It’s easy to miss though, sandwiched between the reality shows of mountain men and ice pilots.

It’s yet another reason why I’m slowly but surely turning away from cable television. A channel which once suited my needs rarely does so now. I instead happily turn to Netflix and Youtube for all my historical viewing needs. I’m probably not the only one.

While the History Channel’s dubious “historical” reality shows may be good business in the short term, it’s driving away an audience of true history buffs, which they’ll struggle to win back when the reality show craze dies its inevitable death.


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