History channel pursues updated look
The cable network is adding reality series and more-recent events to its coverage of the past.
January 03, 2010|By Matea Gold reporting from new york >>>
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History channel President Nancy Dubuc knows what she’s up against running a cable television network devoted to events from long ago in an age of real-time tweets and quirky videos that go viral instantaneously.
“History, people automatically say, is black and white and fuddy-duddy,” she said matter-of-factly.
But not according to Dubuc. Since taking over History three years ago, the young executive has sought to recast the network in Technicolor. To do so, she’s undertaken a provocative strategy: severing the cable channel’s tether to the past.
Once referred to as “the Hitler channel” for its seemingly endless stream of dusty World War II documentaries, the network now crackles with modern-day adventures, many in the guise of unscripted shows so common now on television. Big-rig truckers brave the frozen tundra in “Ice Road Truckers,” while the brawny loggers of “Ax Men” dodge falling timber in the Pacific Northwest. History’s newest hit is “Pawn Stars,” a flashy “Antiques Roadshow” set in a Las Vegas pawnshop. This year, the network will introduce “Top Shot,” a reality contest that will pay $100,000 to the marksman who can best replicate the aim of Annie Oakley and other famous shots.
Even its more sober-minded specials have taken on contemporary topics, some still raw to recount. In its Emmy-winning 2008 documentary “102 Minutes That Changed America,” the network documented the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in real time through amateur footage. A companion piece, “9/12: The Day After,” is set to air this year.
Admirers praise Dubuc for injecting real life into a network that had largely been an afterthought in the industry. Top-tier television producers behind hits such as “Survivor” and “24″ now vie to get their projects on History, which next year plans to air its first scripted drama. But the channel has had to tread carefully to avoid alienating the history enthusiasts that make up its base. And its insistence that programs set in the present day are still rooted in history has drawn scoffs from some competitors.
The evolution of History, which dropped “Channel” from its name in 2008 and added the tag line “History Made Every Day,” is one of the most dramatic makeovers of a cable network in recent years. In embracing reality shows, which are cheap to produce and humming with human drama, the cable channel has followed the tack taken by much of the television industry in the last decade.
More on how the History Channel is changing to reality at http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jan/03/entertainment/la-ca-tv-history3-2010jan03