History Celebrates 25 Years On Air With the ‘Washington’ Series
They cannot tell a lie: Executives at History are excited to mark their 25th anniversary on television with the Presidents’ Day weekend premiere of Washington on Sunday, February 16.
Airing on three consecutive nights, the docudrama helps the network celebrate a quarter century of what executive vice president Eli Lehrer calls historical storytelling. “Our mission statement,” he adds, “is embedded in our name.”
That name has evolved to encompass multiple programming themes since the History Channel — as it was first known — launched on January 1, 1995. After an early focus on documentaries that leaned hard into WWII, History now airs a popular mix of unscripted series (Pawn Stars and American Pickers among them), fact-based fare and acclaimed scripted hits (from the miniseries The Bible to Vikings). It’s a combination that, Lehrer says, “bridges the gap between history and entertainment,” and has made History a Top 10 entertainment cable network for 11 straight years.
The road hasn’t been entirely smooth: A 2017 Amelia Earhart documentary came under fire for factual discrepancies (it never reaired), and historians have criticized the promotion of pseudoscience on series such as Ancient Aliens. Insists Lehrer, “I have no problem with a broad spectrum of approaches to storytelling.”
For this anniversary, execs are happily returning to the network’s facts-first comfort zone. That begins with Washington, executive produced by noted historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Combining reenactments with expert interviews, the project contextualizes the founding father’s life as his early failures give way to extraordinary triumphs. (Grant, a look at the Civil War hero turned president, follows this summer.) “You may know some of the facts,” Goodwin says, “but my hope is that you’ll be able to feel connected to Washington.”
That connection has always been key to History’s success. “You watch one of these [sagas] and get more interested,” she adds. “It just opens the door to more.”
Washington, Series Premiere, Sunday, February 16, 8/7c, History