History Channel Executive Boasts: Templar and Alien Conspiracy Shows "Continually Worked for Us," Will Inspire More of the Same
Last night the History channel debuted its new series about the Knights Templar and the Holy Grail, Knightfall, a series designed to capitalize on the momentum generated by the network’s hit series Vikings and its core audience’s fascination with Da Vinci Code conspiracy theories. While critics offered mixed reviews of the series, many complained that the show was either dramatically inert or overly generic. Nevertheless, it is the first entry to build on Vikings to create a multipronged programming strategy designed to turn History into a full-service entertainment destination, where scripted shows provide an entry point for documentary features on the (quasi-) real history behind the story.
To promote the new direction for the network, History channel Executive Vice President for Programming Eli Lehrer spoke with Deadline about the network’s new scripted series, and in doing so, he confessed that some of the scripted series they developed, including their upcoming dramatization of the Air Force’s Project Blue Book investigation, were intended as “brand extensions” of their popular fake history shows about aliens, conspiracies, etc.
LEHRER: We’re open to any story that feels epic in scope and features iconic historical subject matter or characters. I think one of the nice things about History as a brand is we are able to use our unscripted track record to identify subjects and spaces that resonate with our viewers […] It’s part of what motivated Knightfall — we had seen the programming about the Knights Templar had continually worked for us.
Much of that sounds like business drivel, buzzwords and meaningless action phrases, but beneath the bluster did you catch the cynically awful undercurrent? Lehrer noted that the History channel consistently draws a crowd for shows about fake history, and the network doesn’t much care whether the history they show is true so long as it “resonates” with the right number of demographically desirable viewers. This is particularly egregious considering he had just finished telling deadline that “We’re looking for fact-based stories that draw from history, but that’s very broad because we have the full sweep of history to draw from.”
So they have all of human history but consistently return to the fake stuff, including the Holy Grail (Knightfall), space aliens (Blue Book), etc.? Lehrer described such subjects as “iconic subject matter.” Lehrer ought to have the courage of his convictions and admit the obvious: History caters to people who can’t tell fantasy from reality, and they happily play to their prejudices rather than try to educate them. They endlessly recycle the familiar to avoid challenging the audience, and fail to recognize that they have themselves created the “iconic” subject matter their audience recognizes. I mean, seriously: Who three decades ago would have identified the Knights Templar’s quest for the Holy Grail and the Project Blue Book investigation as “iconic” moments in history? They were minor footnotes elevated to iconic status by endless repetition on cable TV.
In sum, Lehrer admits that the History channel has turned into a feedback loop where the sensationalism it promoted in the early 2000s drew viewers whose numbers then justified continued excursions into the same subject matter, garnering more ratings and more shows on the same topics. The risk, though, is that the loop will turn into a noose since you can only recycle the same ideas so many ways before they oversaturate the market. We saw that in 2014 and 2015, when unscripted Templar and UFO series overwhelmed the airwaves across cable channels, leading to a massive collapse in ratings and the cancellation of many series. The shift to scripted versions of the same material repackages old ideas, but with the added wrinkle of freeing the network from any lingering fidelity to facts.
And lest you think that Knightfall would at least concentrate History’s love of Templar conspiracies into the realm of fiction, Lehrer promised a raft of unscripted “Knights Templar programming to go around Knightfall in the next few months.” The tail wagged the dog. Templar conspiracy theories for everyone!
I kid. The network already had a Templar conspiracy show before Knightfall. It’s called Curse of Oak Island, currently the History channel’s highest-rated unscripted show, and one of the highest rated cable shows on Tuesdays, with 3.1 million viewers this past week. As of this writing, Knightfall ratings are not yet available for comparison.
12/7/2017 09:50:36 am
At least it's not The Hitler Channel anymore.
12/7/2017 10:33:47 am
Follow the money: aliens and UFOs are more entertaining than Hitler.
12/7/2017 01:47:57 pm
No, that distinction belongs to the National Geographic Channel these days.
12/7/2017 03:37:16 pm
No its not. Now there are two other semi-Hitler Channels - the Military History Channel which shows about six shows a day in endless loops and American Heroes Channel which shows lots of documentaries about the Mafia because who's bigger American heroes than them?
12/7/2017 05:32:17 pm
If you can ever find "Blitz: The Bombs That Changed Britain" it's a very worthwhile and moving series.
12/7/2017 10:43:15 pm
I miss Battles BC. Though its "300" style graphics were a bit overblown, they had a great cast of professors and it just might have been the last worthwhile historic programming the History Channel featured.
12/7/2017 10:09:11 am
It wasn't that long ago that the History Channel featured a mini-series portraying the early days of the Revolutionary War. In just the first couple of minutes I knew how horrendous it would be when it portrayed Sam Adams as a young, buff, pretty-boy, leaping from rooftop to rooftop escaping from British soldiers. Of course at the time, in truth he was a rather robust middle-aged politician... but there you have it. More fakery from a television network that should promptly change its name to more accurately reflect their mendacity.
12/7/2017 10:21:07 am
I'll bet a show that glorifies the Confederacy and suggests that they were on the right side of history would "resonate" with 30-40% of the public. i.e. the same people that support a certain politician.
12/7/2017 03:42:12 pm
There already is one and its on several networks.
12/8/2017 03:53:03 pm
Point taken, but I still love NASCAR.
12/18/2017 11:30:02 pm
12/7/2017 10:31:57 am
Hi Jason -
12/7/2017 05:34:24 pm
No, no! What really works is food.
12/7/2017 11:01:45 am
I would like to hear Eli Lehrer define "scripted". Most of their "unscripted" show "stars" would mutter a pile of incoherent ramblings if they were truly unscripted.
12/7/2017 01:10:50 pm
Maybe History Channel should hire the same company that designed the 2015 Destination America logo which included images of a UFO, gray alien, Bigfoot, Goatman, werewolf and ghost.
12/7/2017 01:11:47 pm
I used to watch the History Channel because it's management, years ago, felt that Television should not only entertain, but also educate. That changed when a woman by the name of Nancy Dubac was brought in by A & E (the owner of the History Channel) to increase rating. Her way to do so was to dumb down the Channel, first with quasi-reality crap, then with fringe programming. The channel became more and more unwatchable by anyone with an I.Q. above that of a carrot. Even when the History Channel puts on a "Historical Program.", if it is produced by the History Channel it usually turns out to be total crap. The only two worth the time and effort to watch recently have been "Viking" and "The Hatfields and McCoys". Neither of which were produced by the History Channel, but instead produced by independent companies and then purchased by the History Channel.
12/7/2017 06:47:17 pm
She didn't by chance work at Mtv before going to A&E did she?
12/10/2017 08:20:19 pm
"The channel became more and more unwatchable by anyone with an I.Q. above that of a carrot..."
Your comment will be posted after it is approved.
Leave a Reply.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.