Historian, writer, and friend Kurt Epps is always fond of saying, “You got to hand it to the Sumerians. They invented writing…and beer!” As a former English teacher, he once told me it was imperative when teaching ancient cultures to modern students who could not care less that some comparison to what we have today must be made to keep them interested. This little quip, more often than not, always got the job done, drawing amused stares and question like, “No way! Really?” Yes, really kiddo. The same thing happened to me last week, when dealing with even younger students, and any mention of alcohol whatsoever never ceases to produce childish giggles. Nevertheless, the Sumerian line actually seemed to peak their interest. “Go home and tell mommy and daddy,” I said, “That the next time they sit down to have a beer, they are actually drinking something that is thousands of years old.” I then, in this politically correct world, quickly attached the disclaimer that I am not advocating the consumption of alcoholic beverages to underage students. We have an insecurity in this country when it comes to alcohol; adults can get hammered on weekends, but college students and those younger, well, they do to, but it is kept hush-hush (at least it was in the pre-Facebook “red cup” era of humanity).
Remember the days when the History Channel wasn’t so focused on Armageddon, the end of humanity, aliens and Freemason world domination conspiracies? Remember when it was one of the more respectable networks, that focused on World War II, Ancient, and American history? Well, thanks to a recent release of DVD sets, now you can relive those days when the History Channel was the best place for both informative and entertaining documentaries.
I was very pleased to see a bunch of new sets in the store last week, titled History Classics, which each consisted of five DVDs containing six or so documentaries and about eight hours of footage. I could tell by the names of the shows on the back that they were mostly from the late 1990′s and early 2000′s, when the channel was in its heyday. The days of Roger Mudd anchoring and introducing specials have long since vanished, being replaced by paranoid (and nerdy) shows like Ancient Aliens, Life after People, and Monsterquest. Though I find these shows a bit entertaining, they get very old, very fast, and almost serve as an embarrassment to the network.
The first few episodes of Monsterquest were very well done, but as they progressed and expanded into four seasons, I had a feeling that I may be getting a call from an HC rep asking if they could investigate the strange-looking squirrels that look for acorns in the woods behind my house. I quickly discovered the recipe for their structure: spend the first fifty minutes building up the “monster” at hand, with eyewitness testimony and the expertise of scientists, before taking the final ten minutes to debunk everything they previously presented, telling us that there is absolutely no evidence of the monster’s existence and any that they may have can’t be proven anyway. This is the direction the channel has taken, and Life after People only enhanced its hilarity. It began as a one-time, two-hour special, which was clever, but then they had to ruin it by making it a weekly series. (If you’ve seen one episode, you’ve seen them all.)
Needless to say, being able to purchase and view episodes that I watched as a kid (which no doubt contributed to my love for history) made me smile, and I bought two collections—on ancient Egypt and Rome. I have yet to watch all the episodes, but I am very happy with what I have seen so far. These were the days that I remember, and surely, you do too. The History Channel used to be made fun of because of how much WWII coverage they used to do, some even mocking it with the moniker of “The Hitler Channel”, but compared to some of the garbage they are peddling now, 24 hours of Adolf Hitler doesn’t seem so bad.
They have so far released sets on Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome, Ancient Greece, Famous Figures of the Civil War, Heroes of the Bible, The First Days of Christianity, Real West Cowboys and Outlaws, American Adventurers, The Founding of America, UFO’s and Aliens, WWII: Unsung Heroes, and some others containing more recent documentaries.
The UFO Classic sets contains episodes of one of my favorite HC shows, UFO Files, which were put out around 2004, right when the network began to fall into where they are now. These were the last truly enjoyable alien shows put out by the network—UFO Hunters seems far less credible. Meanwhile, the Egypt set contains episodes of a small series narrated by Frank Langella, which is a tad bit dated, but very well done.
And so I recommend that you check this out if you are a fan of the old History Channel days. These collections sell for $19.95 on History.Com, but other stores, such as Costco, offer the same exact ones for $11.95. Do some searching before you buy, because you may find them a lot cheaper. Even so, either price is fair for these sets.