OnMedia: NBC turns genealogy into TV drama
Genealogist Megan Smolenyak delivered the news to former NFL running back Emmitt Smith that DNA evidence showed his roots were in the West African nation of Benin as the cameras were rolling for NBC's "Who Do You Think You Are?"
Smith's face betrayed the emotions that making a connection to the past can conjure up.
"The celebrities who do this show, they really don't know where they're going, and what they're in for," she says.
And that look on Smith's face wasn't rehearsed.
"You're seeing genuine reactions," she says. "The ones who are going to put themselves in that position, are probably people who are genuinely interested in their roots."
The limited run series -- airing at 7 p.m. Fridays on Channel 4 -- traces the families of celebrities, but these stories have a broader reach. This "reality" series connects with the sweep of history that has transformed diverse people into Americans.
Sarah Jessica Parker discovered ancestors who were involved in the Salem Witch trials. Lisa Kudrow learned the stories of ancestors lost in the Holocaust. Smith, in addition to traveling to Africa, learned that his ancestors include not only slaves, but a slave owner, as well.
Tonight, Matthew Broderick, who played a Civil War officer in the movie "Glory," learns of an ancestor's role in the Battle of Gettysburg.
"I don't think the show would fly if it was just celebrities," says Smolenyak, a veteran genealogist who worked on five of the episodes and wrote the companion book of the same name. "There has to be a story."
But after 10 years working full-time researching family stories, she's learned, "there's no such thing as a boring family."
"Who Do You Think You Are?" began on the BBC in 2004, and while the show has been licensed to other countries, the U.S. version has the same people involved as the British original.
Smolenyak met with them five years ago, and now find herself working with them. While the U.S. version doesn't have the same pace as the BBC original, Smolenyak says it's the kind of "reality" show she's proud to work with.
"The term I've always used is 'redeeming reality'," she says.
Smolenyak runs her own "reality" channel, an online genealogy outlet called Roots Television, featuring hundreds of videos available to watch for free. She's the chief family historian at Ancestry.com, has been on news shows like "Good Morning America" and "Today."
Back to "Who Do You Think You Are?," Smolenyak offers a bit of proof of just how seriously the celebs involved are taking the show. Parker gave birth to twins last June, their middle names "Elwell" and "Hodge" came from ancestors she found while filming the show.
"That shows you that she was for real," Smolenyak says.
The British version: Here's the opening segment of an episode of the BBC's version of "Who Do You Think You Are?" featuring Jerry Springer -- who was born in London:
More 3D movies on the way: Marcus Theatres is installing new digital 3D systems in eight of its widescreen theaters, including four in Wisconsin.
The new technology, which will be known as UltraScreen XL3D, is being unveiled today on the 73-foot wide screen at Brookfield's Marcus Majestic Cinema, which is showing "How To Train Your Dragon."
The other Wisconsin theaters getting the updated technology are the Mequon's North Shore Cinemas, Madison's Point Cinemas and Sturtevant's Marcus Cinema at the Renaissance.
On TV: Sunday's installment of NBC's "Dateline -- at 6 p.m. on Channel 4 -- tells the story of Grafton's Karen Longoria, who was battling cancer in 2008, while her children dealt with physical problems of their own, when volunteers helped rebuild her home. Ann Curry anchors.
- Lisa Ling, probably best known as a panelist on ABC's "The View," will draw upon her international experience for a free lecture titled "A Global Perspective," the annual Burleigh Media Ethics Lecture April 6, in Marquette University's Weasler Auditorium, 1506 W. Wisconsin Ave. The free event is open to the public.
- The second seasons of Edie Falco's "Nurse Jackie" and Toni Collette's "The United States of Tara" just launched this week, but Showtime has already ordered third seasons of each.
- The sixth season of MTV's "The Hills," starting April 27, will be the last one. MTV has canceled the show.
"Lost" finale party canceled: It seems the organizers of the viewing of the final episode of ABC's "Lost" on May 23 at Wauwatosa's Rosebud Theater didn't have Disney's permission for the public viewing, and the event has been canceled.
"Lost" fans who bought tickets will have their money refunded.
I love "Who Do You Think You Are?" and the Henry Louis Gates series PBS has done. I'd like to see these as regular programming. Finally, reality TV shows that are not Star Search knock offs or exploitations of wanna be celebrities. My only wish is that the shows would share more tips on how they did their research (aside from the obvious placements of Ancestry.com in WDYTYA).
Why wouldn't Disney come to some sort of deal? Seems strange to me.
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