"Ancient Aliens" Associate Producer: The Show Is Absurd, and We Purposely Push Facts "Off the Deep End"
I finally have a name to blame for all the screw-ups, mistakes, and outright lies that get passed off as fact in the narration on Ancient Aliens. Annelise Baer holds a master’s degree in “Archaeology for Screen Media” from Bristol University and a bachelor’s in classical civilizations and archaeology from Loyola Marymount University. She joined Ancient Aliens earlier this year as a researcher at the tail end of season six and was promoted to associate producer for the upcoming seventh season, where she is now responsible for fact-checking the show and compiling its background research for the narration. She says in her Staff Me Up profile that she is dedicated to “bringing quality programming to the airwaves,” which I guess makes it a good thing that Ancient Aliens airs on cable and thus doesn’t use airwaves.
Baer said in a tweet yesterday that she expected “burning hatred” for a blog post she made describing her work on the series. It would be unfair of me to blame Baer for material that hasn’t aired yet, so I can’t specifically criticize her research skills.
But let’s take a look at how Baer describes her work producing Ancient Aliens: “My job is a combination of several things: research (which is my real talent) and production (making a show actually happen) along with a healthy dose of accounting, PR and general Excel wizardry.”
She goes on to describe her use of Google Docs and Excel spreadsheets to keep track of various vendors and to make sure everyone gets paid for the use of their photographs, video, music, etc. That’s funny because no one paid me when Ancient Aliens used my material in their pilot episode in 2009 (or when it was recycled again in 2013), but that was before Baer’s time.
Baer identified her forte as research, though I am somewhat less comforted by the fact that she describes research as “div[ing] into the internet and explor[ing] those deep dark corners.” This includes examining cached copies of old Geocities websites, where I’m sure there must be just tons of high quality academic information. I hope that in writing her blog piece she simply overlooked the use of books, museum resources, academic journals, etc., but given what shows up on the screen—and how easy it is to trace that material back to simple Google searches—I’m not confident about it.
But I really want to get to the meat of the issue: Baer admits that no one working on Ancient Aliens takes the show at all seriously, and they intentionally manipulate information to create false narratives:
Even though the final product may not look like it, we actually do quite a lot of research for each episode so that names, dates and historical information is correct. Of course, the fun really starts when we have to jump off the deep end and make all of the nice historically accurate people, places and things fit the ‘Ancient Aliens’ mold. Imagine the most ridiculous combination of historical terms/figures and actions and there’s a very high probability we’ve had that as a story point on the show. We know our job is really and truly ridiculous but it always surprises me just how excited people get when they find out I work on this series. It makes me feel a bit better about the absurdity we put on TV. Just a bit.
I can’t imagine purposely jettisoning my integrity. I know it sounds mean to say it, but how else can I describe someone who knows the facts, intentionally works to distort the facts, feels bad about putting lies on TV (or how else could she feel “a bit better”?), and nevertheless continues to do so—and to write about it online?
Baer seems to justify her participation in the show as offering a mitigating effect. She envisions herself as “actively work[ing] on getting some history back on the History Channel.” Of course, Ancient Aliens airs on H2. I can understand taking work that one doesn’t particularly like because of financial necessity (everyone has done so at some point; I once edited a semi-fringe book on Roman treasure for a European author), but to actively work to undermine the discipline you claim to love? I can’t quite fathom that.
On the plus side, as we prepare for the next season of Ancient Aliens madness, we now have firsthand testimony that the production team knows that the show is absurd, that they intentionally manipulate facts to fit a predetermined narrative, and that they research their claims primarily through Google.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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