No aliens, rednecks, rusty cars, Bigfoot, or swamp rats here. The Smithsonian Channel is giving us what the History Channel should be. It was a total joy when I finally started watching their programming last week, after hearing about how good it was for years. As I sat there, I thought to myself, “This is what the History Channel used to be like.” The types of shows ranged from World War II and early American history to more modern or current world historical events and even nature and science. After catching a two-hour special titled Hindenburg: The Untold Story, I was hooked. It was a dramatic recreation, combining newsreel and archive footage with reenactments and historian interviews. It was perfect—factual but entertaining, straightforward yet stylistic. The production values were extremely high and I began to wonder, “How hard can this be? Is it that difficult to churn out credible quality historical programming that people will find interesting?”
Next on my viewing list was Shackleton’s Frozen Hell, another docudrama detailing Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated yet heroic Antarctic exploration from 1914-1917. It was fantastic and highly interesting. Then came an episode of Skyview, which is filmed entirely in either a helicopter or drone, giving us an aerial view behind the history we are learning. The particular show was titled, “Mysteries, Myths, and Legends”, and was a tour of the British Isles and the many religious and ancient occult sites located there. Aside from the superb camera shots and breathtaking cinematography, the narrator managed to get through the hour talking about spectacular ancient buildings, Arthurian legends, and folklore without one single reference to aliens.
Unlike the old History Channel was poked fun at for, it isn’t 24/7 Hitler and the Nazis but a good variety of topics—there’s a special on Jack the Ripper and possible new evidence premiering at the end of the month that I am really excited about. The new incarnation of the History Channel is nothing but reality garbage, little having to do with history or anything else relevant to life. Even H2, the sister station, is filling up with the main channel’s castaways and is starting to suffer. National Geographic isn’t exactly out of the clear either, as their programming is getting stupid, and we all know how I feel about Destination America. Could it be that the Smithsonian Channel is the last-ditch effort for us History Nerds to find something decent to watch? It sure seems like it. Check your local listings and hopefully you will be able to discover this channel. It’s usually buried in the high numbers (HD for me with Comcast is 1265). You will not be disappointed.