History: Home of Today’s Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy   6 comments

By Atomic Sam

The lines between fiction and reality are beginning to blur and I think I know who is to blame.

I hate The History Channel for the same reasons that I love it.  It is a conundrum.  I hate it because most of its programing now has very little to do with history and has more to do with middle aged white dudes buying and selling old crap.  I love it because I really enjoy watching shows about middle aged white dudes buying and selling old crap.   Also rednecks.



But, along with such fine programing as Pawn Stars, (one of the network’s highest rated shows, soon to get its fourth spin-offHistory and its sister channel H2 have become home to some of the most successful SciFi/Fantasy on TV today, pioneering a new genera of “What if..?” documentaries.  And it is even starting to spill out on to other networks.   AND REAL LIFE!

There can be only one explanation for this…


History (it dropped “The” and ‘Channel” from its name to sound more… menacing? I guess?) was once the home exclusively to Hitler documentaries, but hitched its ride to crazy train when its core audience (mainly conspiracy theorists living in secluded log cabins. Citation needed… ) got all worked up about the Mayan Apocalypse.  Starting back in the mid 2000s History devoted countless hours of programing to the subject.

But History‘s cash cow subject had an expiration date (although, I am not convinced that the Maya don’t have a few tricks left up their… loin cloths.) and came up with alternate programing to fill the void that was to open up after the world didn’t end.  And like the 2012 “documentaries”  the new shows have nothing to do with actual history.

First there is the programing that appeals to the geet-yer-hands-off-mah-property values of the audience.  Pawn Stars, American Restoration, Counting Cars, American Pickers, Cajun Pawn Stars… Shows that  prove to the viewers that all the old crap they have been holding onto for decades really does have value.  They have more to do with nostalgia than history, which is a lot easier for people watch for hours on end than dry documentaries are.  Evoking the past rather than properly exploring it too deeply.  Kind of like an I Love the 80s for history.  Which they also have…    

The pitch for this show was: Two driving around buying rusty junk from crazy old men with beards. HISTORY!

The pitch for American Pickers was: Two totally hetero dudes spend their lives together driving around in a van buying rusty junk from crazy old men with beards. HISTORY!

Then there arethe newly emerging and wildly popular scripted fantasy dramas, like The Bible and Vikings.


Oh, don’t give me that look.  Are you mad that I called The Bible a fantasy drama?

Well it is, and you will need to accept that.  Regardless of whether you believe the stories are true or not you have to accept that The Bible, along with the mythologies of all the world’s religions, form the backbone of modern day fantasy story telling.  Heavenly creatures battling monsters, epic wars, resurrecting the dead, humanity struggling to survive after world ending disasters, talking snakes.  Sounds pretty fantastic to me.

Also, what are the chances that Adam and Eve fit the modern Caucasian definition of hot?

Also, what are the chances that Adam and Eve fit the 21st century Caucasian definition of hot?  Low.  I would say very low.

Vikings draws on the success of shows like Game of Thrones in manor and presentation, while using elements from popular fantasy that happened to have actually existed in the real world.  Vikings have been getting their due in the last few years with the success of Thor and How to Train your Dragon (still have my fingers crossed for the American Gods HBO series).  I think a major resurgence of fantasy depictions of viking culture/ mythology is on its way.

Lastly, and these are my favorite, there are the “What If..?” documentary shows, like Ancient Aliens and America Unearthed.  Each explores theoretical versions of world history that alternate from the accepted mainstream understanding of the past.  These theories cover everything from the classically popular aliens-visited-Earth-and-were-thought-of-as-Gods scenario to the Dan Brownesque notion that groups like the Knights Templar visited North America before Columbus arrived in the 13th century.  I have no interest in debunking either one.  That is fairly well worn territory, with both having more than enough people on the internet looking to discredit them.

Could aliens have visited earth in the past and taught humans how to build pyramids? Sure, why the hell not?  I happen to think that humans are plenty smart enough on their own to have figured out that buildings are best made out of huge bricks.


The idea that aliens showed up in Egypt goes back to earliest days of SciFi and was covered in the very first episode of Ancient Aliens, four years ago.  The show has had to stretch pretty far with its premise to come up with material since then.  And some of the crap they came up with is awesome.

Did you ever stop to think that maybe Bigfoot is an alien? They did and he is.

Zombies? Yeah, those are aliens.  So are vampires.

Ed Wood already called that one.

Ed Wood already called that one.

Prehistoric people good civil planning? Can’t be.  Must have been space people writing a secret message and using the placement of human cities as part of a code.



Anyone of those episodes could be a Doctor Who plot line!  And some of them are.

History gets its fair share of deserved flack for this series, considering it stretches what can be defined as a documentary well beyond its breaking point.  But what it lacks in historical accuracy (and coherence) it makes up for in entertainment value.

As for America Unearthed, could Europeans reached the shores of North America at some point before Columbus?  Yes they could have and I happen to think that they did.  (In fact, its not even really a question anymore).  Does that change all of history? No, not really.  Adds a few interesting footnotes, but that is about it.  My ancestors were in North America way before anyone with boats showed up and you don’t hear me bragging about it. (Damn you, Cortés!)

However, it is in those footnotes where things get interesting.  The United States was once being home to empires that rivaled Europe, that Lewis and Clark were on a secret mission to cover up an ancient Welsh land claim, or that Minnesota was home to vikings (see, told you they are on a come back…) long before there football team could easily be the plot lines for the next three National Treasure moviesAlso Mormonism.

I here by demand that Scott Walter be given a part in National Treasure 3.

I here by demand that Scott Wolter be given a part in National Treasure 3.

Other networks are also starting to capitalize on the “What If..?” trend.  Did you know that The Weather Channel now has its own original programing?

Looks like your smart phone has cornered the market on weather updates and now The Weather Channel has an audience to win back.

Don’t believe that The Weather Channel is getting in on the SciFi/Fantasy band wagon to earn the audience back?  Did you notice that 2013 was the first year that winter storms started getting names like summer storms?


These could be characters in a Syfy show.

According to their webpage:

Naming winter storms will raise awareness, which will lead to more pro-active efforts to plan ahead, resulting in less impact on the public overall.

I think it is more that a broadcast that goes “Its snowing hard in DC today,”  has a harder time keeping an audience than “Saturn is battering down on the nation’s capitol!”

People want our generally mundane uninteresting world we live in to have a little more magic in it.  There is nothing wrong with that.  I think that it is one of the reasons that The Bible is having so much success.  It’s fantasy that you are generally encouraged to believe is true!  And it is important to question what the mainstream accepts as true if you want to live in a world that isn’t flat.  Maybe one of these radicals is really onto something.  Maybe they are all just a little crazy.  But, maybe it is also time that History picks a new name.  Just until someone can actually prove them right.

Do you agree that the Mayan Apocalypse has had a long lasting effect on “documentary” TV?  What other shows fall into the “What If..?” genera?   What would be a better name for History? Tell me below!


6 responses to “History: Home of Today’s Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy

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  1. Something tells me that you weren’t watching Top Gear U.S. this week. Yes it is on “history” and yes this week was all about doomsday prepping. Also,; also,

  2. You got that spot on. History has gone from the best to the worst, showing nothing but trash. I know who is to blame too, it’s a red-neck – alien conspiracy I tell you. The channel should be called Trash TV, calling it history is false advertising. Similarly why do National Geographic and some Discovery channels pump out overly dramatic wildlife shows like “when animals go bad” or “top ten most dangerous sheep”. Can’t we just have shows about the 99.9999999% of animals that don’t go bad. I am very happy just to watch some normal bison, I don’t want to watch that 1 bison that trampled to death 10 hikers, hijacked their SUV before driving across 2 states and getting involved in a shoot-out with the FBI.

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