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From the Parthenon to ‘Pawn Stars’: The decline of a television empire

Posted by

Mike Hogan / Opinion Editor

Most of my TV watching isn’t done on a TV at all. There aren’t that many shows that I want to watch, I don’t have much time to watch them and the networks inconsiderately refuse to air new episodes based on my schedule. So when I want to turn my brain to mush, the laptop is typically my glowing rectangle of choice.

But every now and then my laziness reaches such heights that I can’t be bothered to find shows online. There’s something to be said for walking in the apartment after a long day, flopping on the couch, pressing a button and simply vegetating. Perhaps because I feel guilty about zombifying myself when I should be doing homework, or perhaps because I’m a nerd, I have historically turned to The History Channel as my favorite inactive entertainment (get it? historically?).

Lately, though, I’ve been severely disappointed with the programming on my preferred educational-ish cable channel. See, The History Channel, or just History as it is now called, just doesn’t have any… well, history.

Gone are the days when shows about Nazis stood at attention at nearly all hours. For a while there was a phase where nearly every show was based on the latest movie fad; at least those contained plenty of bad battle dramatizations and animated maps. I liked the historical analysis of “Valkyrie,” even though I already knew the ending (Spoiler alert: Hitler gets away). But even Spartans are sparse on History nowadays, when just a few years ago there was a daily marathon of shows about Marathon followed by lengthy lessons on Leonidas.

If you went on one of History’s shows today and asked the subjects, “What is your profession?!” they wouldn’t answer astronaut, aviator, sailor or “SPARTAN!” They’d probably say something like… trucker. Now I’ve driven down plenty of highways in my time and it’s never exciting. “But wait, Mike!” History fanboys say, “The highway is made of ice!” Fascinating. My interest has been piqued sufficiently to last me through one episode. Seriously, though, unless you’re Napoleon or Jon Snow, I don’t have any interest in hearing tales of how you traveled for miles over a frigid, featureless tundra.

Then there’s the ever-present “Pawn Stars.” At first I thought the only thing keeping this show on the air was a steady stream of male viewers who misheard the title. By now, though, it seems to have displaced even the classic “Modern Marvels” as the flagship of History, now more aptly called the Home Shopping Network for Men. Granted, the show was fun for a while, and it might make history more interesting for the weird people who don’t like endless reenactments of Gettysburg. After a few episodes, though, you realize how repetitive it is:

Seller: “Hey I’ve got this (old thing) and I want to sell it.”

Rick: “Wow that’s cool! Here’s some facts about (old thing) that I apparently have stored in my balding database of a head” (wheezing).

Meanwhile, Chumlee has bought something and is playing with it in the store.

Rick: “So how much do you want for it?”

Seller: “A lot of money.”

Rick: “How about a little money.”

Seller: “Ok.” (Alternate ending: “No.”)

Congratulations, you have now watched every episode ever of “Pawn Stars.”

I could make an incisive social critique about how Americans have become such consumerists that we are now entertained by watching people buy things. But I’m not going to. Frankly, I don’t really care. I just want History to bring back the Nazis, dinosaurs and Spartans. I want to watch a show about the Pyramids of Giza that doesn’t have aliens in it. I want to sit on my couch and passively learn about history, not hypothetical future scenarios or half-baked conspiracy theories. I’m told that the old shows air on History’s auxiliary channel, H2, but I’ll travel to Egypt and see the Sphinx myself before I’ll pay to see it on an extra channel.

I haven’t given up hope on the old gold H yet. The “Hatfields and McCoys” miniseries was pretty good, and there’s a new show coming out about the American “Robber Barons” that looks intriguing. But if those fall through, I won’t have much use for my TV besides watching sports.

So if the Cardinals don’t do well next season, come watch me sell my TV at a local pawn shop. I’m sure it will be highly entertaining.

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