H2 "Betting Big" on "America Unearthed" While Scott Wolter Probes Masonic Conspiracy to Kill Lincoln
In an interview with Adweek magazine, Mel Berning, the president of ad sales at A+E Networks, the parent of H2, said that the media giant was “betting big” on America Unearthed as the key program for repositioning the History spinoff channel as the go-to destination for upscale men. According to Berning, not only are ad sales up across the A+E family of networks, but the two History channels bring in more male viewers than most other non-sports programming. Two-thirds of the two networks’ viewers are male, according to the most recent available statistics.
(Full disclosure: A+E Networks threatened legal action against me this spring over the title and cover design of my book on America Unearthed, which we settled more or less amicably.)
Berning said that this year’s goal for A+E is to boost the profile of its small channels, including Lifetime Real Women, Bio, and H2. H2 will be competing against other channels aimed at upscale men, including the new Esquire Channel (formerly G4) and the Velocity channel (formerly Discovery HD Theater). Last year, H2’s audience was older and poorer than that of competing channels, with nearly 40% of the audience over age 55 and a median household income of $51,000, less than the current U.S. median household income.
Network officials say America Unearthed attracts an audience that is younger and wealthier than the average H2 viewer and is therefore key to raising the median income of the average H2 viewer and lowering the median age of an H2 viewer. Both are essential for the network to be able to charge higher ad rates. Network executives have already said that they want to see fewer infomercials for gold-colored coins and reverse mortgages (which pay less to air on H2) and more commercials from alcohol and automobile companies (which pay more).
Because America Unearthed “overperformed” for H2 during its first season, both among total viewers and the key “rich male” demographic, the network plans to use the show as its flagship, which means that we can expect to see more promotion of America Unearthed and more replays on the more-watched History channel. Thanks to America Unearthed, H2 now leads Science, Military, HLN, Nat Geo Wild, and Speed in the Adults 25-54 demographic.
Fortunately, however, the numbers are still relatively small. America Unearthed has one million total viewers, of whom 547,000 are between 25 and 54. So, at least 54.7% of America Unearthed viewers are under the age of 55, but we know that the average H2 audience is at least 60% under 55. H2 did not release the number of viewers under 25, but for the America Unearthed ratings to be impressive in terms of demographics it must mean that a significant number of viewers are between 18 and 25—college kids. If not, the show would be performing worse than reruns in terms of demographics, and that can’t be right.
At the end of last season, I predicted that in response to the show’s importance to H2, it would start to move away from extremist Christian conspiracy theories and toward a more general-issue conspiracy mindset, all the better to avoid alienating rich, white men. Apparently that’s coming to pass. Actor Paul Cram has just posted photographs [update: Cram's posting has been removed from his website.] of his job working on season two of America Unearthed, where he is playing the role of John Surratt, one of the conspirators in the plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Surely you will remember that Killing Lincoln was a major ratings coup for the Fox-owned National Geographic Channel, attracting a record 3.4 million viewers when it aired back in February. I doubt this is a coincidence.
Cram posted photos of himself as Surratt posing with two men dressed as Spanish or Portuguese knights. I’m baffled by the connection between Lincoln and knights, but a little bit of research suggests the only plausible link (not that plausibility is really an obstacle here): John Surratt was associated (at least in conspiracy literature) with the “Knights of the Golden Circle,” a pre-Civil War secret society dedicated to annexing parts of Latin America to the United States. Some alternative history authors in turn link the Knights to the Freemasons, whom we will remember Scott Wolter believes are descended from the Knights Templar. That still doesn’t give us Spanish knights. The only other connection I can find is from an anti-Catholic conspiracy that claimed that the Jesuits were behind a series of atrocities from the Spanish conquest down to the Lincoln assassination (Surratt studied for the priesthood).
My most logical guess would be that the show is going to argue that Surratt was connected to the alleged treasure of the Knights of the Golden Circle, which was depicted in the movies National Treasure and National Treasure: Book of Secrets. In those movies, Nicholas Cage went in search of Masonic and Templar treasure and then the treasure of the Knights of the Golden Circle. It doesn’t take much to conflate the two and make the Knights of the Golden Circle privy to the secrets of the Templar treasure, if you follow the conspiracy literature in linking the Golden Circle to Freemasonry. According to Arthur Goldwag’s Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies, treasure-hunting conspiracy theorists argue that the Civil War was the result of a conspiracy put into place by the Templars and carried out by the Illuminati and international Jewry.
This is not a new idea. In fact, on November 6, 1864, Alexander Ramsey wrote a letter from St. Paul, Minn. to Abraham Lincoln’s private secretary warning Lincoln that the Knights Templar (by which he meant the order of Freemasons) were planning to assassinate him. I will bet that this is the factual warrant for the whole conspiracy:
Shortly after the Nom. of McClellan a gentleman, an old acquaintance of his, temporarily at St Paul and a “Knight templar” in the order of Masons, said to him that Mr Lincoln would be assassinated if elected — to the inquiry “who would do it” he replied “the Knights” My informant is a “Knight templar” himself, and at the time and for a season after supposed the “Knights of the Golden Circle” were meant, but upon reflection he fears his informant meant the “Knight Templars” & if so he fears their detection will be more difficult & begged me to put the Prest. on his guard. (original spelling & punctuation)
So far as I know, this is the only textual warrant for a Freemason-Templar anti-Lincoln conspiracy. According to Harold Holzer, one of the leading Lincoln scholars, this letter was just one of many warnings of assassination from various quarters. By chance, Lincoln’s secretary, E. D. Neill, kept this one for himself, and it ended up in the Minnesota Historical Society, not far from where Scott Wolter lives and works. Holzer wrote that the U.S. government did not suspect the Freemasons in the assassination at any time.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see what conspiracy theory America Unearthed comes up with.
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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