[Editors's note: The following story was based upon a report from a source running a Facebook page who claimed to be familiar with America Unearthed's production and had been relaying reliable information in the past. I spoke with a History official on 4/17 who confirmed that the source was incorrect and the incident described below never happened. Details are here.]
Apparently the H2 network and its parent, History, have decided that America Unearthed is focusing too much on alternative Christianity and Jesus Bloodline conspiracies. According to information provided to me by a source familiar with the production, History had a meeting with show star Scott Wolter on March 28 to discuss his statements about the marriage of Jesus to Mary Magdalene and the alleged Holy Bloodline descendants of Christ’s union with her. Some Christians apparently took offense to the claims about Jesus and expressed their displeasure on Facebook and in other forums. According to the source, Wolter apologized for any offensive statements, and no further action was taken.
I tried to contact History to confirm the story, but History directs inquiries to its parent company, A+E Networks. In turn, A+E requires reporters to undergo a registration and approval process that lasts 1-2 weeks before granting a reporter access to contact information for their press department. Well, I tried. They’re welcome to send me a statement if they have something to say, or, you know, make it possible for reporters to talk to them.
[Update, 7:07 PM: Now my source claims to be "legally" unable to speak about the event in question, and I have my doubts about what really happened, or if anything actually happened at all. This would be a reason why A+E might want to think about making it easier to get hold of them. Thanks to a helpful reader, I've gotten contact information for the History PR person, and I have an inquiry in to find out their side.]
History’s most successful broadcast in years was its telecast of a miniseries based on the Bible, and this has drawn an increased number of Christian viewers to History programming. Additionally, both History and H2 target middle to upper class white male viewers (average household income of $75,000 per year), who tend to be demographically more conservative than the general population, as are those who are interested in history-themed programming.
History’s viewers are overwhelmingly male (64% in 2012), while H2’s are even more so (67%). Viewers of information-themed programming of all kinds, including news and historical programming, are more conservative as a whole than the general population.
While men are less likely than women to be religious, those who are older than 50 are more heavily religious than the general population (71% of all nonbelievers are younger than 50, according to Pew Research). History tends to attract an older audience, with an average age of 55, a demographic that is again both more conservative and more religious than the general population. At the time that H2 launched its new slate of original programming, its audience skewed even older than History’s, though this has likely changed as part of their rebranding effort.
Therefore, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if History put a bit of pressure on Wolter and Committee Films to soften their claims about non-traditional Christianity, if only for financial reasons. I note that no one held a meeting to discuss how offensive the show is to logic and reason. Perhaps this is one reason that the scattered bits of information available about season two indicate that the show will be exploring a more diverse range of diffusionist topics, including Native American mysteries and “lost” civilizations.
On the one hand, this at least means more variety, but on the other hand, it also means a lot more work to learn about a wide range of topics to debunk the show’s slipshod findings, rather than focusing just on Henry Sinclair and the Jesus Bloodline.
While we’re on the topic of corporate intrigue, I’ll also pass along this little tidbit sent to me by a concerned reader. As you know, production company Committee Films received a large cash award of more than $100,000 for America Unearthed from Minnesota Film and Television’s Snowbate program, which distributes tax dollars to media productions. The chair of the Snowbate Committee, which decides how funds are disbursed, is Heidi Schuster, who works as director of operations for a company called Splice. This company, in turn, is the postproduction partner for Committee Films, providing “design, 3D graphics, online edit, color, sound design and audio mix” for program. Splice has worked with Committee Films since 2009’s Holy Grail in America, another Scott Wolter Jesus-Bloodline conspiracy documentary.
According to production documents Committee Films filed with Minnesota Film and Television, America Unearthed paid Splice nearly $10,000 for sound work alone on just the show’s pilot episode. Postproduction work in other categories totaled more than $86,000, though I do not know how much went to Splice. Presumably Splice continues to be paid for its work on the series.
I’m not privy to the internal workings of Minnesota Film and Television, and for all I know Schuster could have recused herself from involvement in the decision. But what a small world it is that public tax money goes straight into productions that directly benefit the companies whose representatives distribute the money—and has consistently done so since 2009!
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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