At this point it’s probably not really news to learn that a cable TV “documentary” series is staged, but it’s still interesting to hear from a participant how the manipulation occurs. Last night, Terje Dahl, a gigantologist who appeared on Search for the Lost Giants last week, stopped by my blog to share with us some information about how producers goaded him into performing one of the episode’s weirdest acts—producing a replica fossil tooth from beneath his hospital gown while being treated for difficulty breathing. According to Dahl, he really was in the hospital but otherwise the whole scene was staged—and he had never seen the tooth.
I was given the tooth by the producer of the show at the time of the filming and was told that it was a replica of the Denisova tooth. Lying in a hospital bed and with cameras rolling I had no chance to check. I remember I was thinking that it did not look exactly like the Denisova tooth from the cave that I had seen on the internet…
Dahl also explained that he felt that the producers made him look foolish, though frankly I’d think his website—in which he opines that the ancients were ruled by a race of gigantic blond Nordic geniuses—makes him look foolish enough.
I did not really want to travel to the US to be part of the show because I was afraid that they would dramatise to[o] much and make me look a fool. It turned out that I was right. But I went anyway. I was hoping that the show could get the public[’]s attention to what seems to be a not very known part of human history, and that I could be able to get the Denisovans into the picture. […] I have not been able to see the show yet, I am living in Australia. So I do not know how the filming went but I can assure you that the producer had his own clear ideas of what should be filmed and said. And I fear that so much of the little I was allowed to say has been edited so it is totally out of context.
Again, it’s worth noting Dahl’s point that the producer is manipulating rather than capturing events to fit a preconceived narrative. In other words, Search for the Lost Giants is handled more like a reality show than a documentary series, semi-scripted.
I also feel sorry for Jim Vieira. As me he really wants to know the truth about what we call giants, but I am afraid that the shows will try to do the opposite—just create a general opinion that giants never have existed.
From where I am sitting, that certainly would seem to be the result of the show’s repeated failure to find giants, and the show’s declining ratings—shedding around 200,000 viewers since its premiere—would seem to indicate that at least some in the audience agree. However, given the widespread praise for Search for the Lost Giants in the gigantology community and among fringe believers, it appears that what you see in the show depends in good measure on the preconceptions you bring to it.
A certain degree of fakery is inherent in television. It’s one of the things I was most uncomfortable with when I studied broadcast journalism many years ago. All those scenes you see on the news of people writing at their desks, typing on their computers, or walking through hallways or parks while reporters talk, almost all of those are staged to fill the “b-roll,” the shots used to establish scenes or serve as visual wallpaper. The rationale for these faked images is that journalists are capturing a reenactment of everyday life, and they don’t directly impact the story.
By contrast, reality shows manipulate events, not just images, fabricating storylines and plot points, and setting up characters to “perform” like trained seals. A+E Networks, the parent company of H2, is no stranger to this method of “sweetening” supposed reality. Radar reported that A&E, sister station to H2, was accused of salting the lockers purchased on Storage Wars to ramp up the excitement of the show. This is all part and parcel of widespread fakery among reality shows across all networks. Radar similarly exposed staged fights on South Beach Tow and falsified material on Jon & Kate Plus 8, and so on and so on.
Few expect that programs presented as “entertainment” (to use the term loosely) will be real, but I wonder how many would assume that a program presented as a nonfiction documentary series on the quest for archaeological mysteries was as scripted and staged as Keeping Up with the Kardashians? In the eyes of the producers Lost Giants may be a reality show that just happens to have a historical backdrop, but to its gigantology activist viewers—like Micah Ewers (“Jim and Bill Vieira, your show kicks Ass. Great work dudes.”) and Sharon Day (“I am, once again, utterly alert and on the edge of my seat for every episode. …thank you oh so much for having the balls to air a show like this and support it because I believe, in the scheme of things, giants cannot stay hidden…”)—the show is a serious inquiry into giants bringing truth to the masses.
But if that’s the case, how can you expect anyone to take gigantology seriously when the show is (badly) staged and information manipulated? I wouldn’t consider it a flagship boldly charting a new course toward respectability for this fringe theory. But then again, I am not a gigantologist and have no great love for manipulated, misreported, and misunderstood Victorian newspaper stories either. They were the reality shows of their day, and just about as true to life.
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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