When Did the History Channel Stop Doing History?

Our cable subscription gives us around 15 channels.  This includes the network stations along with a few additional channels and allows us to watch some of our favorite shows such as The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, Seinfeld, and Family Guy.  On Friday my wife realized that we now have access to 65 channels, one of which is the History Channel.  At first I was excited, but after three days I have yet to see a program on history.  In fact, right now I am watching the rescue of some idiot who got himself stuck at the edge of Niagara Falls. Other programs featured the search for Big Foot, MIT and gambling, conspiracy theories and 9-11, and some obscure show on the universe.  I actually just watched a commercial for a show called Monster Quest and the search for flying monsters. 

It’s nice to know that I am not missing anything.

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19 comments… add one

  • John Jan 6, 2008

    Amen to that. I used to watch the History Channel often when they featured Civil War and WWII documentaries but not anymore. Somewhere along the way, ratings won out over content. Like A&E, which used to air fascinating biographies of historical figures, the History Channel seems to have surrendered its soul to the almighty dollar. It’s sad, very sad.

    • Dr. VanBeuren Apr 23, 2010

      Sorry, but history is not all wars and the like. Open your mind! It’s amazing that people knock a channel merely because it doesn’t exclusively feature programs which reflect their particular interest.

      • Andrew Press Apr 28, 2011

        Yeah cause American Pickers, Pawn Stars and Monster Quest are so historically based…

  • For me, the History Channel has sucked for years. Even when it was showing history, that history was always military history or ancient history. The only time they ever did anything on women’s history or social history was when it was an exceptional person like Nefertiti or Lady Godiva.

    I know what you mean though. Lately it has lots of stuff that’s supernatural in nature.

  • Josh Jan 7, 2008

    Welcome to the part of the population which has that useless channel! Now you can expect:

    1.) Super-patriotic military history programs about World War II;
    2.) UFO/Bigfoot/”End of the World” TV shows which try to scare you for ratings… including those Mayan predictions and Nostradamus being treated as real, rather than pseudo-history… complete with crooks who call themselves scholars getting time as talking heads;
    3.) HOURS of biographical information about Hitler…

    Yeah, I completely agree with everyone else. I’m a US social/religious history fan, so documentaries are hard enough to come by…

    Then again, maybe I’m just bitter that no one else thinks that the idea of watching a well-produced documentary on the Second Great Awakening sounds like an almost sinfully-good experience.

  • Tim Abbott Jan 7, 2008

    Might as well ask; “Why does MTV no longer do music videos?” They have all surrended their souls (assuming they had them to sell) to low budget, high return exploitation and reality programming. The Discovery Channel is in the same leaky boat.

    Thoughtful, ground-breaking documentary film-making on historical subjects is still possible, but not, evidently, commercially viable in the cable wasteland.

  • Kevin Jan 7, 2008

    I was very impressed with their recent program on Sherman’s March which presented a very sophisticated overview of the campaign that actually included a great deal of social history. It is, however, a gigantic leap from that program to stories of UFOs and Big Foot – very disappointing indeed.

  • Chris Paysinger Jan 7, 2008

    My students used to affectionately refer to it as “the Hitler Channel.” But I don’t even think they do that anymore. I agree that the History Channel and A&E used to have pretty good content. But in the last couple of years it seems it is not only bad but ridiculous.

    People assume since I like history that I must watch it alot. And they don’t believe me when I say that I don’t. But I agree, UFO’s and Ice Road Truckers don’t get me too excited. Josh is right, some stuff on Lyman Beecher, etc. would be great though.

    If they are going for excitement and violence how about a documentary on Sumner/Brooks. I wonder which respective actors they could get?

  • Chris Levesque Jan 7, 2008

    I think the problem is that they expanded their channel offerings too quickly. I have noticed that other than their longstanding obsession with WWII, there seems little “history” on History Channel anymore. History Channel International and Smithsonian, available through DirecTV provide more “history”. Today History International had an archaeological study of Caesarium, a half hour on the Roman conquest of Great Britain, and a show about the Essex, and the whale attack that served as the inspiration for _Moby Dick_. No real social or cultural history, though. Smithsonian HD does have a half hour on the homes in different cultures developed.

  • Dan Jan 7, 2008

    A few points, and one personal opinion:

    1) The History Channel still shows history-related films, such as “The Thin Red Line”, which was aired this past weekend.

    2) One could argue that 9/11, the search for Bigfoot, conspiracy theories, and other items are, in fact, history—just not of the political/religious/military genre. I guess this just illustrates the difference between individual popular conceptions of what actually constitutes “history”. By the strictest definition (i.e., one that the average person on the street would employ), this would probably mean political/religious/military events that took place in the past—meaning that even women’s history and social history (and no disrespect is meant by this to the poster above)
    would be excluded. So the real question is to define what constitutes legitimate “history”. Example: would the history of scientific advances qualify, or should there be “Science & Technology Channel” for that? Heck, even the Sci-Fi channel shows films that, to me at least, fit in more with the “horror” genre than the sci-fi genre…

    Personal opinion: my guess is that, like MTV and the History Channel, all of the other specialty channels will continue to broaden their base of programming, little by little…until you can flip on the TV and see the exact program on all 500+ channels.
    (Not that that prospect really bothers me much, since I read about ten times more than I watch TV anyway)…

  • Kevin Jan 7, 2008

    Well, I guess you can define your terms along those lines, but it seems to me you run the risk of extending the parameters of your definition so far that anything becomes history. I will bite the bullet and say that Bigfoot and 9/11 conspiracy theories is not history. I call it nonsense.

  • Andrew Duppstadt Jan 7, 2008

    Nonsense is correct, Kevin. I always tell my community college students that we will not be discussing ANY conspiracy theories in my class. It seems that whenever you get to the Kennedy assassination that’s the direction they immediately want to go, and that’s true for any number of other topics as well. I think that because of these types of programs on cable television, that’s what the students expect to learn about in class. I too feel that the History Channel has taken to backsliding pretty hard over the past few years. I used to watch it more often, but not much anymore.

  • Brooks Simpson Jan 7, 2008

    Y’all just don’t understand. The conspiracy shows are just part of the larger conspiracy to keep people distracted so they won’t see what’s really going on.

    • CJ Woodring Aug 15, 2014

      Amen. As is done with everyday news: Focus on the Kardashians and Paris Hiltons, and who has a baby bump and who wears the same dress better. That way no one will have a clue about the things that matter in this country and world. Americans have, indeed, become mental midgets.

  • Daniel Sauerwein Jan 8, 2008

    It is my hope that one day, a new channel will air that will replace the History Channel with quality programming. I miss the days of documentaries like “The American Revolution” and both “Frontier” series. It is a shame that television has let history down, but there will always be our old friends, history books.

  • Banji Jan 10, 2008

    I’ve noticed for many years that the history channel mainly covers events for which they have video footage, probably from government archives. This is probably cheaper for them and enables them to cover things that are non-controversial to most of their viewers, while at the same time offering the familiar, formulaic, popular culture view of what history is.

    Also,making critical documentaries on things like the evolution of literature in China, Kenyan union movements from 1860-1980, or the grammars of the precolombian North American languages are harder to make than a45 minute show on the fbi’s marvelous hunt for a transsexual, serial axe murderer who killed puppy owners.

  • Dr. VanBeuren Apr 23, 2010

    The programs on the History Channel which you’ve mentioned all pertain to events which have taken place, so in a sense, they all pertain to our history. First, you’re under the impression that you only get 15 channels; then suddenly, for no reason of which you’re aware, you discover you actually get 65
    channels…. Long story short, you don’t sound like you’re the brightest bulb in the chandelier, so I don’t think your warped assessment of the relevance of the programs on the History channel will rattle many roofs…. Yeeeeeeesh….

    • Gorganzolia Oct 24, 2011

      I am also very bothered by this problem. I love the history channel and i still watch it. But, i have noticed they show more reality based kind of shows now. I can’t agree on these shows being based on history. pawn stars is a good show but history based? I mean if you consider this type or show history based. all shows can be said to be history based considering most everything has been done in history before. I miss shows like modern marvels and more like a historians view on important historical events and things much farther back in the past like the roman empire and the like. These newer shows while entertaining they are seriously not historical based shows and i miss that. How many times have you watched pawn stars, american pickers, IRT deadliest roads, or ice road truckers(the main line up shows on the channel now days) and left with a feeling like i learned something and feel smarter for having seen it?

  • Pigbitnmad Jul 12, 2013

    I think the programming gets worse the more channels you get. Each channel has about three viewers, therefore they can’t spend anything on programming. MTV shows no music, History Channel shows no History, and now the Biography Channel shows no biographies….and when they did they were these schlocky ones about people like Paris Hilton which use a lot of talking heads of gossip columnists and the same recent video footage over and over. Biography was a fairly decent show when it was on A&E. But now they do not show any biographies in the AM at all….only Infomercials. WTF???

    The idiots have won, and there is only room for this stupid reality TV and Infomercials (which in itself makes people stupider). I understand the guilty pleasure of watching crap sometimes (although lately it is too crappy even for me….could not STAND Jersey Shore).

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