Anybody else notice The History Detectives sucks?

I watch a lot of PBS, so I have caught this show a few times and all I can say is “blech.”

First off, they never seem to find anything of interest. It always starts out with some grandiose hopes (was this Abraham Lincoln’s hat?) which are invariably dashed (nope, it was stolen from a hobo).

Worse, the show is endlessly repetitive. They make the same point three or four times per story.

But the most unendurable part of the whole thing is that they talk down to their audience the entire time. Do they not realize that PBS viewers might already know a few things about history? Do they need to spell out even the most obvious things (and then repeat them)?

I actually kind of like that show, it’s at least better than most of the dreck on TV. I do agree with many of your points and I’ll add this: The hosts are terrible actors. It’s terribly obvious that some poor underpaid schmoe was forced to plod through 10,000 pages of old documents, but the "history detective’ gets to pretend on camera that they found the obscure reference to Josiah Duggins’ outhouse site (or whatever).

Gee, here I was thinking about starting a thread praising the show. With one exception (the forged George Washington portrait), none of the items I’ve seen have been terribly “grandiose.” For the most part it seems they find items that may not be HISTORY but certainly have some level of historical interest.

I kinda like the show too.

shrug Go figure.

I saw a show where some guy had a mouse toy that he thought might be some precursor to Mickey Mouse. So they investigate his case. Does anyone know if this was the same show?

It’s an interesting show, but yeah it tends to be a letdown.


Nope. It’s just some old house where nothing special ever happened.

Looks like it must be - The second episode from the 2005 season A San Francisco toy collector, however, believes his small mouse figurine may turn the legend of Mickey on its ears. With a red label on its chest that reads “Micky” and a patent label on the bottom of one foot that says “Pat. Aug. 17, 1926,” the figure appears to have been produced two years before Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse.You can get the transcript of the “mouse story” as a pdf.

The most annoying thing about the show is the tone of voice the hosts use. They sound like they’re talking to a retarded child!

I’m starting to think that the people on this show are under strict orders to cry or hyperventilate when the history of their heirloom is revealed. I thought it was touching and genuine on a few occassions (e.g. the decendent of Chinese immigrants learning about the poetry at Angel Island), but now every time we find out something really earth-shattering, like that brown stain on great-Aunt Nora’s petticoat very well may be James Garfield’s cigar spit, the schlub starts sobbing uncontrollably.

I was really excited about this show way back when it was promoted before its first season. (IIRC, the promos were aired duing Colonial House or Frontier House.) I’ve enjoyed the series that The History Channel did reconstructing historical events using forensic technology, and hoped for something similar.

I work in a museum, and am passionate about history, so I was hoping it would be a show which would spark the public’s interest. We have about ten show’s worth of mysteries in my museum, and my curator and I even chatted about contacting them.

After about three episodes, there wasn’t any more discussion of it.

They want “mysteries” that are easily solved by a trip to the local archives. Their “research” seems to consist of browsing through microfilm, most likely handed to them by a librarian who knew exactly where it was stored.

Following their example, I could probably make a fortune setting myself up as a History Detective. My expenses would be making Xerox copies. The rest would be pure profit.

I think it’s ridiculous when they shout something to no one in particular. Elyse Luray is the worst when it comes to this, although Tufuku Zuberi often does it as well. “Check this out! In 1927, the New York Times said that Kaiser Wilhelm’s left arm was stolen by a French soldier in Belgium during World War I!”
Other than that, it’s a fun show.

Also, what’s the deal with the theme song? It sounds previously recorded and not original, because the lyrics make no damn sense…at least the ones they use.

I get so angry when the teardrops start
But he can’t be wounded 'cause he’s got no heart

Whoever picked this must have thought it was clever since the song has the words “watching the detectives” in it. Probably one of those guys who thinks Born in the USA is a patriotic song.

You and your museum cohorts aren’t the target audience for the show. It’s for people who don’t know much about history and whose interest might be sparked by an unusual item. Think “Antiques Roadshow” for history.

Doesn’t anyone think Elyse Luray is hot?

I agree. This show isn’t very good.

Try “Secrets of the Dead”. Similar idea, but much better execution.

Yeah, it’s an interesting idea for a show, but it feels like they have to pad most of the story out by repeating clues over and over.


Yeah, OK, I’ll be the one to say it.

It always feels like they’ve got a bit of an agenda in at least one story each episode. I don’t usually notice much obvious left-leaning behavior on PBS, but this to me is an exception. One recent episode had a segment on a WWII P.O.W. camp in Texas. During the wrap-up of the segment they just had to make some sort of flimsy connection to Guantanamo and the Geneva Convention. Even though it was totally irrelevant to their investigation.

I was watching that one with my increasingly conservative parents. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to convince them PBS isn’t a liberal bastion anymore.

The little bumper things offer other examples from history of things that are similar to the topic of the segment. I don’t remember the exact wording of the Gitmo note, but in a segment about enemy combatants being held in U.S. territory, what other examples would you suggest they offer?

(Note, I’m trying hard not to take this into GD territory, just making an observation)

I don’t remember the exact wording either. They never said “bad stuff is happening there,” but “many people think bad stuff is happening there”. The second point is definitely true and probably the first one as well. But it just seemed leading and unnecessary to mention it, especially after saying that there was no evidence that Germans were mistreated in the Texas camp.

Mention Guantanamo as a modern-day parallel, sure. Just leave the debate can-o-worms to the News Hour or McGlaughlin.

OK, found the transcript:

OK, it’s only the one last sentence, and it’s a true statment. Maybe I’m just hypersensitive to this sort of thing when my folks are around. I prefer avoiding argument, myself. :slight_smile: It still seems like a hit-and-run though.

It’s “Watching the Detectives” by Elvis Costello. Yeah, it’s definitely an odd choice - a song about stalking and murder! It jars me every time I watch the show.

… Which isn’t often. I thought the premise sounded nifty, so I watched a couple of episodes. I didn’t think that it sucked, but nothing really compelled me to watch it on a regular basis. It seemed to me as though they were trying to make a big deal out of these really minor objects. Plus, the “research” was rather boring.