By ALEX DIAZ-GRANADOS
November 7, 2017
“Now, you have to understand that as fascinating as history is for some individuals, the sad reality is that there are more television viewers who are bored by the subject than viewers who love it.”
Essentially, History, which was originally named The History Channel, followed the same path as its parent network, A&E.
It was seduced by television’s version of the dark side of the Force: “reality programming.”
Back in the 1990s, A&E started out as the Arts and Entertainment cable channel. I didn’t watch it much back then, but it used to be the “go to” channel for viewers who wanted to see programs about fine arts, music, travel to exotic places, and documentaries.
Eventually, as it often happens with cable channels, the owners of A&E, which include ABC and Hearst, decided to create a separate channel devoted to historical content, primarily documentaries. And in an inspired burst of creativity, A&E named the spin-off “The History Channel.”
Although the channel aired programming about other historical eras and/or topics, the History Channel seemed to focus on documentaries about World War II. Viewers could expect to watch such shows as Great Blunders of World War II, The Last Secrets of the Axis, Okinawa: The Last Battle, and reruns of Crusade in Europe, Victory at Sea, and even The World at War.
Not surprisingly, wags tagged the History Channel as “The Hitlery Channel.”
Then, in the 2000s, as broadcast networks saw that “reality shows” such as Survivor, Big Brother, The Apprentice, and Dancing with the Stars garnered huge ratings and were cheaper to produce than scripted sitcoms and dramas, the History Channel’s programmers decided that if that’s what it took to boost ratings, then they, too, would go down the “quicker, more seductive” path.
Now, you have to understand that as fascinating as history is for some individuals, the sad reality is that there are more television viewers who are bored by the subject than viewers who love it. Either it reminds them of their high school days and teachers who taught the subject in not-very-exciting ways, or they simply don’t see what the big deal is about the past.
In any case, the History Channel decided to boost its ratings in a variety of ways, most of which entailed shifting the “brand’s” focus from history to more “trendy” stuff.
At around the same time that Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code became a literary phenomenon, the History Channel started airing programs that supposedly explored the novel’s theses about the alleged relationship between Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene, including The Real Da Vinci Code. These shows then led to conspiracy theory shows along the lines of Decoded.
The network’s desperate grab for better ratings resulted in a shift from documentaries and semi-documentaries to the cheaper-to-produce “reality shows Pawn Stars, Ice Road Truckers, and Axe Men.
That, and the channel’s reliance for schlock programming such as Ancient Aliens, explains why History (the TV channel) has lost respect.