April, 2004

History Bites at the R.O.M.

As a member of the ROM in addition to getting free admission and notifications of any special events there, we also get a small flyer called ROMLife that lists all of the programs and courses taught there. What caught my eye a while back was a talk that Rick Green – former member of The Frantics, the “Green” of The Red Green Show and head writer for History Bites – was planning to give. I love the show and have managed to catch most of the four seasons currently being shows on History Television, so I arranged to go and see it. And since my Aunt Audrey lives close by and I haven’t seen her for a while, I asked her to join me.

Turns out she hasn’t seen the show, and that’s because it’s on an “upper channel” she doesn’t get, but she was up for an evening out with her nephew.

After catching up on what she’s been up to of late, we headed over to the ROM, getting there with plenty of time to spare in order to get tickets and decent seats in the auditorium. It started at 7-o’clock and after a brief introduction by the directory of the ROMLife program Rick Green took to the stage.

He talked about the show in general and how the show started. He started out by giving us a version of the 2-minute pitch he made of the show to the people at History Television several years ago. The basic premise focused around the idea that television had in fact been around for most of the events in history – that much is known to anybody who has ever watched the show. But as he then went on to say, the show will also designed to be a dark critique of television as a medium itself, showing how the viewpoint and the emphasis shown distorts the overall picture. The end result is something like a mongrel cross between the classic SCTV and just about any other show you might run across on History Television. Interestingly, he has nothing but praise for the execs at History Television, who have apparently given him all of the support he’s needed to start the show and keep it running, now into its 5th season.

He started by showing off a clip from a yet-to-be-seen show from the new season that looks at the antagonism between Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I. Rick introduced the clip by saying that in fact the two of them never actually met during their lifetimes, and that the writers had to think of something that would bring them both together and be a good forum to display all of the issues each of them had with the other. The result: The Jerome Springer Show featuring a pissed-off Mary Queen of Scots with a strong white-trash/Southern accent bitching away at the way she’s being treated by her cousin. Great stuff! Bracketing this sort of material was extensive commentary from three curators at the ROM, all experts in their field who provided extra details on the history. Sometimes they provided further background for other clips from the show that were then played, other times showing items in the museum collections relevant to that era, or providing an archeological perspective on the events covered in specific History Bites clips. It ended up being a good mix of comedy and history lesson, taught by the best in both fields. There was even a bit of crossover, as the archeologists tried out some very dry comedy, explaining how horrible human tragedies (usually massacres) usually left him to find largely intact pottery from the hiding places where people had hidden them and never returned to collect them. Bad for the original owner, but great news for the archeologist. The condition of any pottery that was found quickly became a running joke throughout the evening.

Fans of the show would have been interested in the back-stories behind some of the clips he played. He mentioned a few of the places used as backdrops for some of the scenes – not too surprisingly, the Medieval Faire that runs in Oakville during the summer cropped up more than once. He prefaced the clip from the new season that featured a scene from All in the Family set during the time of the first American Thanksgiving by saying that the two writers who wrote it had not been born when the show was originally on air. They had to rent some tapes of the show in order for them to understand the format. This happens a lot, ranging from shows just before my time (like The Ed Sullivan Show), to shows I vaguely remember (like Laugh In), to much more recent shows like Survivor, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and so on.

The presentation went on for a couple of hours, and was lots of fun. I think you can measure its success by the fact that my Aunt, who had never seen the show, thought the evening out was a hoot.

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