Wednesday, September 22, 2004

History Bites

I don't know if this Canadian television show is available outside of Canada, but if you get a chance to check it out, you should. You may me able to find it on your local public broadcaster or on the non-Canadian version of the History Channel.

The show is the brainchild of Rick Green, whom Americans might know as the hapless title character of the "Adventures with Bill" segments of The Red Green Show. Green is actually a capable and accredited educator, but he's been involved in ensemble comedy in Canada for about as long as I can remember. A few years ago, he took advantage of his "star" power to propose a project that would combine the two.

History Bites is premised on one question: "What if television had been there?" Each half-hour show has the viewer flipping through the channels on his or her television, offering glimpses of critical events in the past from news clips on CNN (or whatever it might have been called in that region at the time), interviews with key figures by Larry King and Barbara Walters, period lifestyle clues from episodes of Seinfeld or All in the Family as well as "science" programming, kids' shows, David Letterman, Dennis Miller, the cable company's TV Guide channel, and so on. The ensemble cast, featuring Ron Pardo's incredible mimicry, does a creditable job of capturing the flavour of the shows they parody. As with most educational programming, there is evidence that "no bank balances were harmed in the making of this motion picture", but this is educational programming that doesn't feel especially educational. You (and your kids) will love it, even if you don't always get the local Toronto commercial references. Don't worry, the history is not all (or even much) Canadian, just the local commercials.

If you know anyone who doesn't like reading about a bunch of dead white guys (and, let's face it, most history text books are drier than the begats in the Torah), treat them to this. It might spark enough interest to make them want to learn more.


Jess said...

I LOVE the New Red Green Show... the only times I get to see it is when I happen to catch it on PBS. Do you happen to know if this show is/will be available in the US also?

>>but this is educational programming that doesn't feel especially educational

"Edutainment" is the widely-known and very fitting term for that definition. :-)

Anonymous said...

Kind of an updated version of Walter Cronkite's ageless classic "You are There"?

Christopher Byrne

Stan Rogers said...

Very much updated, and very different. The 500-channel universe thing has a lot to do with that -- while you wait for Wellington and Blucher to come to the mics at the post-Waterlo press conference, you cut away to George (Costanza doesn't fit the period in England, but that's the guy alright) saying that he liked Napoleon's re-emergence from exile, 'cause it meant he wasn't the most self-absorbed short bald guy in Europe anymore.

This show may fit the "edutainment" class, but the label would be unfair. This would make good prime-time on any network, and I bet a lot of viewers would be surprised that they could pass a history test after watching. The educatin' is subversive in the extreme.

Stan Rogers said...

Oh, about the availability: I wish I knew. I know that it can be *made* available in order to create a foreign demand. I know one thing that I can do, and that is to contact Red Green (Steve Smith, who also produces History Bites) to see if I can float an episode or two down south.

Jess said...

D'oh, d'oh, d'oh. I'm sorry Stan. Your very first line was the fact that you did not know if it was available outside of Canada... I do that all the time... Grrrrrr.