When The History Channel rejected Emmy Award-winner Joel (24) Surnow‘s $30 million mini-series The Kennedys, it was another message to millions of viewers that have rightly started to ask, “So where’s the history?” History spokespeople claimed that the miniseries did not meet their high standards of historical accuracy. A ridiculous claim from a network that has extolled the virtues of lying, far-left pseudo-historian Howard Zinn and hyped an unintentionally hysterical “history” series on aliens building the pyramids and Bigfoot expeditions.
Last year History featured the terribly produced, politically correct The Story of US that featured such well-known “historians” as Donald Trump, Melissa Etheridge, Margaret Cho and Sheryl Crow. The whole idea of History demanding exacting historical accuracy in such dramatizations as The Kennedys wouldn’t be so laughable if the reorganized network took such care in its now rare historical documentaries.
The British produced Story of Us’ recreations of iconic American events like Custer’s Last Stand, the Alamo, and Lexington and Concord were not only poorly realized, but so inaccurate as to be almost unrecognizable. Back when the old The History Channel did recreations of historical events, many companies like Greystone, Digital Ranch and Native Son, went out of their way to create top quality, authentic visuals with far less money than the amounts spent by the London based company who threw together The Story of US.
In researching some 90 dramatic film and television representations of George Armstrong Custer for my up coming book The Celluloid Custer, I can assure you that few come close to the real Custer, though his true warrior’s charisma was vividly captured by swashbuckling Errol Flynn in They Died With Their Boots On back in 1941. But Custer is out of favor with the left-leaning media, despite the fact that New York Times best-selling writers like Evan Connell and James Donovan have accurately repatriated Custer’s reputation. And so the inaccurate ravings of Arthur Penn’s Little Big Man (1969) on the famous Indian fighter still live on. A naïve peace and love hippy-dippy type might retort,”Oh, but Custer fought Indians, he must have been evil!” All I can say to that is go read a fact-based history book, maybe even one with footnotes, instead of Howard Zinn’s “I get to lie because I want my kind of social justice to win out” propaganda.
Dramatizations of true events have to take some liberties, it’s just one of those messy facts of storytelling on film. Discussing the Oscar nominated The King’s Speech in the Los Angeles Times, British historian David Freeman acknowledged that dramatists all the way back to Shakespeare have had to occasionally tweak or telescope historical events in order to tell a good story and entertain. With History’s abandonment of The Kennedys, it’s about something else, about whose historical/political ox is getting gored.
Still, the media’s most revered modern president, John Kennedy is a sacred cow and only partially because of his tragic assassination. So History is being incredibly sanctimonious by not letting new generations of viewers know that besides his courageous handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK was also indeed a serial womanizer, as was his power-hungry father. To quote Dennis Miller on the subject, “Didn’t that horse get let out of the barn a long time ago?” Yet, Oliver Stone, whose films often screen on History, is considered perfectly accurate in his depictions of Richard Nixon, George W. Bush and. . . the JFK assassination. I think not.
Actually, it was political pressure from the Kennedy family, a family that has direct business links to several large media companies in the History corporate group, that pushed hard to kill the Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes-starring mini. History must have known that they were getting a less sanitized look at the Kennedy clan. Network execs had seen and okayed the script before it was shot. Thankfully, the fledgling REELZ Channel picked up The Kennedys as an excellent way of increasing their viewership and should do well with it..
Meanwhile over at the HISTORY Channel, Pawn Stars, American Pickers, Ice Road Truckers, Monster Quest and other such contrived reality programing have become the network’s staples. Series that sometimes garner upwards of five million viewers, now making History one of the top seven cable networks. Going for the lowest common denominator has not only increased the once respected network’s ratings but also increased advertising rates aimed at the coveted 18-49 viewers. So unless those viewing habits change, there’s no going back to the kind of quality historical documentaries on World War II, the Civil War, the Old West and the Founding Fathers that helped establish the old The History Channel in the mid-1990s. I don’t begrudge History making money, but given their now non-history schedule shouldn’t they have the decency to take the title HISTORY off of their network title?
There has been a price to pay as older and more traditional viewers have left History in droves, replaced by younger and more female viewers. During the traditional era of the network’s programing, from 1995 through around 2005, a very good ratings night was 2.5 million and the network wasn’t unhappy with a million viewers on fairly basic shows that had little promotion. Last year History literally bought the opening night’s ratings of The Story of US by spending huge amounts on a massive advertising campaign that got them 5 million viewers the premiere night and dwindled to around 2 million for the subsequently silly and poorly executed episodes. Many of those now missing-in-action viewers weren’t getting the kind of quality history they were expecting.
We need a new Fox-like history channel, one that extols the values and virtues of tradition while entertaining and informing, especially on the subject of our own American History. The left-leaning Fox haters just blew a blood vessel here, but if you know the controversies and the facts and can back them up while still providing good quality “info-tainment,” the viewers will come. Given the major ratings that Fox routinely trounces CNN and MSNBC with, just imagine what they, or another enterprising network that appreciates an accurate, traditional and entertaining approach to historical programing could achieve.
There are still tens of thousands of great historical stories that were never touched by History, as well as new historical research and fresh finds on many well-known subjects, as well. Stories with courage, integrity, honor and, yes, controversy that still need to be told. God knows our kids aren’t getting them in most public schools, and actual history, not the network, isn’t boring when told well. Who will step up to the real history mound and strike out the no-history History network with good, straight up American history, instead of the far-left lunacy centered on race, class and gender that predominates in the intellectually bankrupt world of academia and History the network today?