Saturday, February 5, 2011

Thank you, NBC, for Not Dumbing Us Down

Last night was the premier episode of season two for the NBC television show Who Do You Think You Are? (WDYTYA).  For those who are not familiar with WDYTYA it is a program that follows a celebrity as they trace their family roots.  It's a voyage of discovery.

When the program began last year there were certain flaws to the program.  Most genealogists tolerated the flaws out of appreciation for having a program of this kind on mainstream tv.  There was quite a bit of discussion on the internet about the pros and cons of season one.

I'm very happy to say that the producers of the show must have been listening.  Episode one of season two featured Vanessa Williams - without any of the annoying aspects of season one.  The producers did away with the incessant previews and recaps that occurred before and after every commercial. Those recaps insulted the intelligence of viewers.  Did they think we were so slow that we couldn't remember what had just happened?  This year NBC is treating us like intelligent human beings.

There may have been other tweaks to the show that I can't quite put my finger on.  The show seemed more genuine.  Vanessa Williams didn't over-emphasize her reactions to discoveries.  She seemed very authentic.  Last season there was one show in particular where the actor was a little unrealistically exuberant in their reactions.

Numbers and Advertising Down?

Today Thomas MacEntee of Geneabloggers reported in a post about the show that the ratings for adult viewers age 18-49 was down 18% from the debut last year.  Though he does note that another source says the numbers overall reached a series high.

Last year I remember seeing a tremendous amount of advertising for the show before its debut.  I don't recall seeing a single advertisement this year.  Could it be viewers in the 18-49 bracket was down because they didn't promote it as much?  It could be that *I* didn't watch much NBC in the weeks prior to the start of season two.

If you saw advertisements on NBC ahead of time please let me know.

Bottom Line 

The bottom line is last night's episode featuring Vanessa Williams was excellent.  It was warm, educational and interesting.  It provided great information on African American history and did a great job of breaking some African American historical stereotypes.  I think we were all rooting for Vanessa by the end of the show.  What fulfilling and reaffirming discoveries she made about her own family!

And that's the point of family history.  Researching our family history helps us connect to our ancestors and to understand our current family in a meaningful way that often provides a sense of peace.  I hope people take away from the show they don't have be famous to feel the same kind of connectedness to their own family.


  1. Well stated, especially the last few paragraphs. I too could not quite put my genie finger on what was different about the "feel" of the program, but, I liked it.

  2. I agree completely - last season I felt like there was so much "filler". As much I enjoyed the show, it was frustrating. Last night's episode was thoroughly enjoyable.

  3. Excellent review. I really love your last paragraph. It's what I've tried to explain to people many a time. Most get it.

    Agree that it seemed more authentic, like she was actually doing the bulk of the research.

  4. Well said, Marian. I just finished watching the episode on Demand and, as usual, got a little teary towards the end.

  5. I agree. I could not even watch all the stars last season.

    I liked that they went into some detail, and gave a little historical background for those not familiar with the laws during that time.

    I would give 4 stars. I think they ought to really think about researching for some regular people at least 2.

  6. I did see advertisements on NBC this past week, but I don't remember seeing any before then and was wondering why there weren't any ads! I remember last year being hit over the head with the ads. And up until about 2-3 weeks ago the homepage on NBC wasn't hyping up or really mentioning season 2 at all. I didn't catch it if they did this, but it might have helped if they had replayed some of the episodes from season 1 in the time slot so people could get interested and set up their dvr's to record before the premiere.

  7. Abby,

    Exactly. That's how I felt. The only hype I heard was within the genealogical community who was looking for and waiting for the program to start. Imagine how many viewers they could get if they advertised each show!


  8. It was wonderful! I watched it this afternoon and loved it.

    Was I the only one who was envious of her fantastic find in NARA? Or what she uncovered at the TN Statehouse?!??!! I was doing the genealogy happy dance for her!

  9. I especially agree with two of the improvements you pointed out in this season. First, I don't know why the actors last season seemed insistent on "acting" (or overacting) moved by their family discoveries, making it all seem stilted and a touch embarrassing. The other thing is that new gimmick whereby the producers keep repeating blurbs of the buildup to each event before it happens, after the commercial, etc. The feeling of authenticity is lost in the attempt at producing "entertainment" for the masses, as if we wouldn't notice.