Not long after the network began, The History Channel’s longest-running, signature show made its debut: Modern Marvels. The series, which looks at different features of modern life through a historical lens, boasts more than 500 episodes over more than a decade and a half.
Modern Marvels has remained so steadfastly popular that even old reruns still appear on the network during the day. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much of a perusal of TV Guide to discover that Modern Marvels is one of the few actual historical programs on History these days.
History started to make a turn away from its namesake in 2007 with the debut of Ice Road Truckers. The documentary series about truck drivers with apparent nerves of steel who drive over frozen rivers in the winter months to deliver supplies to natural gas companies located above the Arctic Circle makes no bones about its lack of historical references. Nevertheless, it has had its compelling moments — and made for some innovative production.
Alas, it would appear that there’s only so much driving across the Canadian Arctic that viewers can take, so History revamped the show into IRT: Deadliest Roads (because abbreviations are so badass), which put the truckers from the original series in tractor-trailers on dangerous roads all over the globe. Trust me: it’s even less exciting than it sounds.
Along with Discovery’s Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers – or IRT, if you’re really cool — helped usher in the era of extreme-job and extreme-lifestyle chic. Surf with your remote and you’ll find countless series that take wide-eyed looks at jobs and lifestyles that require specialized skills and more than a measure of bravery. History has contributed a couple more shows to that genre: Ax Men and Swamp People. As entertaining as the two series are, neither one dwells much on the history of lumberjacks or denizens of Louisiana swamps — other than legendary stories like that of “One-Eye”:
I should note that two reality shows on History actually make somewhat of a historical connection. You might learn a thing or two from Pawn Stars (unlike those other pawn shows) or American Pickers, but don’t let that deter you from watching. Pawn Stars centers mostly on the unique items that come through World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, along with owner Rick Harrison and the bozos who work there, while American Pickers concerns itself more with the unique finds from the guys at Antique Archaeology who bicker like a couple of old maids.