Here at NJATVS, we were pleasantly surprised with both the enjoyment of and the response from The History Channel’s mini-series event, Sons of Liberty. While there were some significant stretching of the factual truth, the series was extremely entertaining. In order to maximize viewership and to make a series about historical events appealing for all demographics, some exaggerations were acceptable. Sam Adams as the rebellious one overshadowing John Adams was one of those stretches found acceptable considering what they were trying to do. The role of General George Washington was almost riveting when you consider the man we all believe him to factually be. The show was a resounding success in my eyes. The question was, will this be lightning in a bottle? Or will the History Channel continue producing works like this in an effort to build their audience. Texas Rising I think answers that question.
I have no intention of belittling any previous series’ that The History Channel has put out in a similar fashion. The elephant in the room being “The Hatfields and McCoys”. No one can take anything away from that contribution. The story of the country’s longest feud that might make the Montagues and Capulets seem tame by almost any standard was another big success, registering north of 10 million viewers. By no means something to shake a stick at. But the Hatfields and McCoys was the type of series one has come to expect from the predictable History Channel. Good. Accurate. And for the newer audience of the DVR era, lacking something to draw them in. By any measure, Costner, Paxton, and Berenger should have been enough, but this television landscape is ever-changing. And it is clear that The History Channel (unlike many networks still playing by the old rules) has embraced such a concept. And let us not forget Vikings. Vikings (which I am waiting to conclude so I can binge watch) seemed to come riding in on Game of Thrones’ coat tails. One could argue that Vikings is a staunch departure from the predictable History Channel. A show that has a significant fandom and whose historical accuracy matters very little in the scheme of its success.
In the sense of full disclosure, I must admit that I am not even caught up on Texas Rising. However, with the beauty of DVRs and On Demand, that really is not an issue. The issue at hand is, where does Texas Rising fit? For my experience, I absolutely place it above the Hatfields and McCoys while at the same time have it significantly below Sons of Liberty. For now. And here’s the basic truth. It does not fall on the actors, directors, or even showrunners of the respective series’. The American Revolution is just sexier than the events that followed the fall of the Alamo or a deep rural family feud that seems to have lasted as long as the country itself. It just is. The big ‘however’ is that somehow, The History Channel is capitalizing on some of the nuances and successes of Sons of Liberty and found a way to fit that square peg into a different but still square hole.
Texas Rising has an impressive cast. Now that sentiment has to be taken in context. Remember, this is still a mini-series event aired on a cable network probably best known for its biographical or documentary style accuracy. Until I hit my mid-late 20’s I don’t think I watched 10 seconds of History Channel programming on purpose. And I think, that is my point. This is not your father’s History Channel. Texas Rising’s cast goes 20 deep of big names down to names you might not know but whose faces you would. Names like Bill Paxton, Rob Morrow, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Thomas Jane, Crispin Glover, Jeremy Davies, and some former heavy hitters like Kris Kristofferson, Brendan Fraser and Ray Liotta. Now the cast of The West Wing or The Avengers it is not, but considering what this is in a literal sense, it is very impressive.
The bigger ‘win’ here may be that The History Channel is finding engaging ways to tell stories that up until now (with the exception of true history buffs) were skipped over. As the product of public and private American education, I have a rudimentary understanding of the facts and dates concerning Sam Houston, Santa Ana and what followed the battle at the Alamo. But it was never a subject in our history’s timeline that I ever found all that compelling. But as with Sons of Liberty, The History Channel is finding ways to make it interested without deviating too far from the actual truth.
The big question on my mind naturally, is where does it end? The answer, I hope is that it doesn’t. One has to assume that these are significant undertakings to produce. The limited run, ‘mini-series event’ nature, the cost, and the cast does not permit such productions to come along every month. This works to the advantage of a long-term sustained run. The Revolutionary War, The Alamo, hopefully are just the beginning. This country is rich with a wealthy of history, most of which are recalled by its citizens as a series of names and dates. All of which. ALL OF WHICH, could find a place on The History Channel. It’s not just about the story, it’s about how the story is conveyed. Side note. To be fair, each time The History Channel has taken some ‘liberties’ with the truth, they have intentionally directed us to a History.com website pointing out the difference between the show and the truth.
I think it is critically important that The History Channel gain viewers, gain support and continue to make these series’ that shine a contemporary light on stories most of us have long since passed with little to no interest in revisiting. Blacklist, Daredevil, Game of Thrones they are not. However, they do deserve our attention. At least to gauge our interest. Real stories sometimes make the best stories. These are real characters derived from real men and women. These stories can be so much more than “Turn your textbooks to page 173 and read the chapter on General Patton”. While I’m on that point, as long as the teachers teaching our children are versed in the difference between fact and artistic license, these could become a great learning tool as well.
Is Texas Rising as good as Sons of Liberty? That is still yet to be seen. Whether it is or not is really beside the point. Two and a half hours into the series and I can assure you with absolute certainty that these are good, high quality, stories of our past presented in a cinematic fashion that makes them more than names and dates. And for that reason alone, you should give them a chance. Check your local listings and on demand services. You just might find out that you are a History Channel person (as it pertains to these mini-series events) after all.