Heading into the home stretch of Who Do You Think You Are’s debut season, some of the commentary on my genealogy e-lists has gotten a bit testy.
Apparently, when WDYTYA isn’t tarting up a respectable pastime, it’s raising research costs by getting too many people interested in genealogy. Plus, it’s an ad for Ancestry.com. Plus, it’s about annoying celebrities, not everyday folks.
I’ve been keeping up courtesy of Web replays, and WDYTYA has done about what I expected it to do. I just didn’t expect it to be a NGS seminar or even Faces of America.
A few thoughts:
• Yes, it’s rather shallow. Attractively packaged, nicely photographed shallow, mind you. Then, too, it’s network TV. WDYTYA is not aimed at somebody who knows what a mortality schedule is. It’s aimed at (a) people with a mild curiosity about genealogy and (b) people with a stronger curiosity about whether the Celebrity of the Week has a horse thief in the family tree. On that level, it succeeds brilliantly.
• Fees increases for certificate copies and the like wouldn’t surprise me, but not because WDYTYA got bureaucracies focused on a new cash cow. It will be because most state and local governments are running on fumes, funding-wise, as are many nonprofits.
• It’s fair to say that primary sponsor Ancestry.com gets a lot of plugs on the show. However, WDYTYA does give a nod to a variety of sources. I didn’t come away with the impression that an Ancestry.com log-in will solve absolutely every genealogy question. (Just 95 percent of them! Couldn’t resist.)
• Objecting to the celebrity angle seems beside the point. The show gains its essential drama from the comparisons between a celebrity’s public profile and their ancestral profile. Ironies and contrasts abound. Yes, I was tickled that Matthew Broderick, who memorably portrayed a Civil War officer in “Glory,” should find a Union Army volunteer in his family story. And Sarah Jessica Parker, descendant of an accused Salem witch? C’mon. What’s not to gawk at? More poignantly, producer Lisa Kudrow’s harrowing family Holocaust story showed me another side to the actress formerly known as ditsy Phoebe.
• We could use some TV about everyday people’s genealogy problems. But truthfully, I don’t see it flying in prime time. Network TV needs a broad reach, and unless your last name is Earp or Barrymore, your family stories (and mine) probably won’t engage total, non-genealogy-hooked strangers. Still, I’d love to see a broad-brush show like WDYTYA carve out a three-minute spot at the end where a professional genealogist answered an everyday Jane’s specific question. Just sayin’.
Bottom line, it hasn’t been a profound ride, but it’s been an entertaining one. I’m looking forward to Season Two.