By Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist Published Mar 26, 2010 at 11:00 AM
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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, 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.

Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist

Tim Cuprisin is the media columnist for He's been a journalist for 30 years, starting in 1979 as a police reporter at the old City News Bureau of Chicago, a legendary wire service that's the reputed source of the journalistic maxim "if your mother says she loves you, check it out." He spent a couple years in the mean streets of his native Chicago, and then moved on to the Green Bay Press-Gazette and USA Today, before coming to the Milwaukee Journal in 1986.

A general assignment reporter, Cuprisin traveled Eastern Europe on several projects, starting with a look at Poland after five years of martial law, and a tour of six countries in the region after the Berlin Wall opened and Communism fell. He spent six weeks traversing the lands of the former Yugoslavia in 1994, linking Milwaukee Serbs, Croats and Bosnians with their war-torn homeland.

In the fall of 1994, a lifetime of serious television viewing earned him a daily column in the Milwaukee Journal (and, later the Journal Sentinel) focusing on TV and radio. For 15 years, he has chronicled the changes rocking broadcasting, both nationally and in Milwaukee, an effort he continues at

When he's not watching TV, Cuprisin enjoys tending to his vegetable garden in the backyard of his home in Whitefish Bay, cooking and traveling.