Craptastic "History" Channel: D00dstorians only!

Good luck with that, Spanky!

Here’s an e-mail from a loyal reader who was forwarded this message from a “History” Channel casting associate–and not because the forwarder thought my reader might be eligible for the job!  (If you recall, I’ve had some choice bons mots here about the quality of programming on the “History” Channel in the past–just click here for our conversation last winter.)

Hello Professor _______,

My name is B——- McC——, and I’m a casting associate working on a new show for The History Channel entitled “History Quest”.  We are currently casting hosts for the show, hence this e-mail to you.

I’ve contacted of few of your department’s professors, and I wanted to reach out to you as well.  Perhaps you know of someone who would be an appropriate candidate for our show.

We are looking for a host with a strong background in American history.  Additionally, we need a host who is approachable, relatable to the audience, and capable of dispensing history lessons to show contestants in an accessible manner.

The show is half history lesson, half adventure reality series.  Each episode will be based in one American city, in which two teams will compete in physical and mental challenges based upon that city’s history.  The host will serve as both motivator and educator.

We’re open to many physical-types for the host position, but we’re focusing on finding more of a rugged, rough, and smart type.  Think Survivor’s Jeff Probst or Dirty Jobs’ Mike Rowe, but with a background in American history.

Here’s a description of our ideal host:

Male, mid 30s – mid 40’s, blue collar intelligent with the right mix of humor and gravitas.  Needs to be quick on his feet and have the ability to give game instructions, interact with contestants, and ladle out historical fact.  Rugged but approachable and knowledgeable.

If you have any interest in talking more about the show, please respond to this e-mail address or give me a call at (***) ***-****.

 If you know someone who would be an ideal candidate for the host position, please feel free to forward this e-mail to them.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


B——- McC——
Casting Associate
“History Quest” Casting

Of course, a host with boobs is entirely out of the question.  Only men are capable of achieving the “right mix of humor and gravitas.”  And since authority is gendered male in our culture, only a man could possible be “approachable, relatable to the audience, and capable of dispensing history lessons to show contestants in an accessible manner.”  Now, never mind that I’m finding it difficult to think of more than one male American historian who is “rugged,” a guy who used to teach here as a matter of fact.  I mean, geez–maybe there’s a d00d with a History M.A. working for the National Parks or National Forest Service, but they’re not exactly thick on the ground at the American Historical Association’s annual meetings!

Now, if only they had asked if we could find a short, pale, male American historian who has a baseball fetish, I could fill Fenway with suggestions. . . even the bleachers!

0 thoughts on “Craptastic "History" Channel: D00dstorians only!

  1. I think that just for the sake of “science”/your readers/women everywhere, you should apply to the casting call yourself. Write them an email detailing your personal qualities and emphasizing how appropriate you are. Then share your experiences with us so we can all have a hearty laugh.


  2. This comes right at the proper time for those of us on the job market, Historiann. Here in the English studies world, we’re always interested in the newest theoretical paradigms, so I was intrigued in my recent viewing of History Channel shows to see several experts identified in the corner of the screen as “Ancient Astronaut Theorist.” I’m contemplating self-identifying as an Ancient Astronaut Theorist to position myself more effectively in relation to Marxists, Deconstructionists and the rest.

    But surely, Historiann, you must have noted that an ability to “ladle out historical fact” must mean that they really do want a woman for the job! Who else would have the proper ladling skillz?


  3. Good Lord! If not for the Historiann gravitas, I’d guess this was the famous April 1 edition of the blog! I’d get through the checklist on “ladle out historical fact,” but since there’s no comma between blue collar and intelligent, are they describing a style of smart, or its situation in an occupational background? I note that we’re dealing with age, class, and gender markups here, and that’s only on a quick read and analysis.

    I’m going to apply to the Nat Geo channel myself, where you can ladle out historical fact from the top of a ninety foot tall Space Shuttle solid rocket booster, while it’s under construction! And since it’s presumably under construction in some specific PLACE, that’s the geography part!


  4. File a complaint of discriminatory hiring with the EEOC. You know, gender-specific job ads are illegal unless gender is a bona fide occupational qualification of the job. Let The History Channel defend its hiring practices to the EEOC.

    And, yes, I’m dead serious.


  5. Emma is dead on.

    In terms of blue collar, intelligent, and the right mix of gravitas and humor, I nominate one of my mentors: MJ Maynes. She was a brilliant critic of my writing and great at motivating me and her other students in grad school…

    Hey! How about we propose a travel adventure history show based on the skills and challenges of grad students and faculty members?

    Department meeting cage match…(faculty only, no grad students were harmed in the filming of this show); the archive photocopy scramble… wrangling with East European Bureaucracies to get the photo permissions for your book or article… navigating a wheely suitcase full of photocopies through customs at JFK… the 48 hour marathon drive to three archives in the South West… the mental and physical challenges are endless…


  6. @ Matt L.: We have East European Bureaucracies right here on campus, with which you wrangle to get the $58.72 to acquire the photocopies in the first place, much less the department of permissions and complications!


  7. Emma–since I don’t think this job ad was published anywhere (well, except here now), but rather is an e-mail circulated selectively, can the EEOC really do anything about it?

    Rebel Lettriste: the class angle is something I’ve been thinking about all morning. I wonder if it’s also about race as much as class, given the examples of TV hosts they mention in their description of their “ideal.” (“Blue collar” might be code for “white rural.”)


  8. A listserv I read recently had a spate of posts about why the history major attracts a preponderance of males. I no longer feel any need to reply.

    @Matt L: Pimp my microfilm reader!


  9. Deja-vu.

    In fall 2003, I got an almost identically worded casting call from a History Channel subcontractor doing a series on the Crusades. My feminist department chair passed it on to me as a point of irony. I spread the word online (listservs back then, not blogs), people protested, and within days a new casting call was issued. The final production even included one lady historian (among about 6) — Imagine that!

    Key here: complain to the channel itself. They’ve subcontracted the casting, so you let them know that they’ve hired a sexist agency. They are within their legal rights to do so in this case, since this is a casting call for a “character,” but there’s no compelling need for this character to be male. The most “rough and rugged” academic I knew was a former colleague who is an underwater archaeologist (classical period) specializing in diving for Greek & Roman shipwrecks in the eastern Mediterranean. She rode her bike 5 miles to work every day, could throw a javelin, had arms & shoulders that would put Michelle Obama to shame, and spent every summer scuba diving for shipwrecks, then writing learned articles about them.

    I think she could kick this sad little casting director’s ass.


  10. “Emma–since I don’t think this job ad was published anywhere (well, except here now), but rather is an e-mail circulated selectively, can the EEOC really do anything about it?”

    Why not ask the EEOC? Going to the EEOC costs nothing but some time.

    AFAIK, there’s nothing about it being an email that makes it non-actionable. It’s a solicitation for people to apply for a job with the network which clearly states “no women need apply”.

    Could your University legally solicit job applicants via email and specify “no women need apply”? If your University can’t, why can The History Channel?

    “They are within their legal rights to do so in this case, since this is a casting call for a “character,” but there’s no compelling need for this character to be male.”

    So, if the CBS News issued a “casting call” for a “character” to read the evening news, it would be okay if it said “men only”?

    I think you’re wrong about this. It’s not a “casting call” for specific characters in a movie or play, it’s a job solicitation. But if you’ve got a legal opinion that says otherwise, I’ll rethink it.

    Complaining to The History Channel might “fix” (or might not) this particular situation. But since The History Channel seems to continue to do this, since at least 2003, it seems it won’t address the ongoing discrimination. I’m quite sure the casting company isn’t the one who decided that only men were going to be considered, I would bet you a year’s salary that was a directive from The History Channel.


  11. While I’m obviously appalled by the sexism inherent in this e-mail, the program itself deserves some share of abuse too:

    “Each episode will be based in one American city, in which two teams will compete in physical and mental challenges based upon that city’s history.”

    Physical challenges? Does that mean historical obstacle courses? Are they going to recreate the Bowery and have a big drinking game? Mental challenges? If it’s not a quiz show, what the heck does that mean? Who on earth would actually want this job?


  12. Tree–y’know, I thought of GayProf. He’s smart, he’s an authentic westerner, and could do rugged if he wanted to.

    KC, good idea about notifying the AHA. You’re right that they’re a presence at the annual meetings. Time to go look up who’s chairing the women’s caucus. . .


  13. @Emma: I would tend to agree that “blue collar” is more likely to be code for “white rural” (or perhaps a faux variant thereof) than to denote something class specific. I am thinking of the last TV series that capitalized on this, _Blue Collar TV_ on Comedy Central. (A show based on the Blue Collar Comedy Tour featuring four white male stand ups.)

    Also: OMFG. As I look on the Wikipedia page for _Blue Collar TV_, I click through to see the page for Larry the Cable Guy (a comedian who affects a fake southern accent and “redneck” persona for his act), one of the “Blue Collar” comedians. And I see:

    “On January 26, 2010, the History Channel announced it was ordering a series starring Larry the Cable Guy, tentatively titled “Only in America With Larry the Cable Guy,” in which the comedian explores the country, immersing himself in different lifestyles, jobs and hobbies.”

    I totally picked the wrong way to get on the History Channel.


  14. As someone who’s spending a lot of time in the pop culture and history field, I see a lot of people surprised that a woman historian would do that. Apparently we’re only supposed to do history about uninteresting girly stuff. Extra bonus bad points if we suggest exploring a gender history angle vis-a-vis the pop culture topic.

    Fortunately, not every company or group who’s interested in these subjects has that response, but I could see that from this call. It’s all about appealing to the guys they posit as their target audience — no chicks or eggheads allowed? Since we all know that women have no interest in rugged guy stuff like history, right? *facepalm*


  15. Unless there is a state law prohibiting this advertisement I don’t THINK that it would be prohibited federally. They’re casting for a “character” in the show and apparently this “character” is a male. Not that I think that able-ism, classism, sexism, etc. ought be allowed in advertisements of any kind. That’s just coming from my perspective in the discrimination field (not me discriminating but working with discrimination cases!). Who enforces EEOC regulations, anyway? If it is the Department of Justice they might be too busy appealing DADT and other decisions…


  16. I don’t see how the *role* or function of being an M.C. in what would be at least a pseudo-empirical presentation format (“ladleing out facts”) can properly be described as a “character” in the sense of looking for the seventh “Lassie,” or the third “Mike Douglas,” or something like that, thereby making gender a BFOQ. Presumably they have at least some in-house legal opinion to the contrary if they are going as far as to solicit the thing quietly. But if they can squeeze this one through that kind of a loophole, watch for it soon on a shop floor near you under some such wacko denominator as “dramaturgical management theory,” from a policy shop at Wharton and Annenberg.

    This would be worth making a major stink about, because although the History Channel is indeed cutting loose from any disciplinary anchors that it may have once had, I think it does still occasionally work with serious content originators who have relationships with real historians, and they might be very sensitive to that. As Emma suggests, let THEM play dee-fense if they can.


  17. Ditto what Notorious said–I’ve seen this ad in a different format. And I don’t think discrimination law applies, and that’s based on having a lot of friends who are actors.

    I have to say, though, that I’m surprised that the casting agency thought to contact historians. After all, the only academic historian on PBS’s History Detectives is an architectural historian. (And she’s terrific.)

    Yet the larger point about the sort of sponsorship A&E (the parent company of The History Channel, Biography, and Lifetime, among others)AHA and OAH gladly cultivates. Why don’t we return all those free and plasticky History Channel-provided tote and shoulder bags we receive at the annual meetings? I’d rather have A&E give money to, say, a scholarship fund administered by these professional societies.

    All that said, I can think of a lot of “adventure reality” contests, historically situated, that would land the network in a lot of litigation. Reality? For real?


  18. “They’re casting for a “character” in the show”

    I think, in legal parlance, that’s a question of fact. It seems to me, on the little that’s been posted, they’re actually looking for a host for a reality, “history”-based, competition show. That’s not a character like I think of characters, anyway. It’s a job description.

    “Who enforces EEOC regulations, anyway?”

    There are no such thing as EEOC regulations to be enforced like laws. The EEOC is the first step to filing a complaint of discrimination under Federal statutes, i.e., Title VII, the ADA, and the ADEA. You have to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, the EEOC investigates to determine if it believes there has been discrimination, and then eithre a) issues you a right to sue letter, at which point you can file a lawsuit or b) refers to the DOJ to see if the DOJ will allow them to sue as the EEOC.

    So you can’t just “report” a violation to the EEOC. You have to file a charge, alleging discrimination against you. So, I couldn’t file a charge, for example, because I’m not otherwise qualified for the job being advertised, i.e. I’m not an historian (or Historiann!). But I would think that any female historian who otherwise fits the qualifications could file a charge with the EEOC alleging discriminatory hiring practices.

    Certainly, calling it a “casting call” rather than a job posting makes it fly below the radar re: job-based discrimination. But I wouldn’t think that makes it legal. Though, I could very well be wrong.

    Here are some links re: discrimination in casting calls:

    “The problem is not casting for roles designed for a specific sex or race, he concludes, but limiting casting calls by sex or race when a particular sex or race is not important to the story line.”

    “This article examines the legality of race and sex classifications in casting announcements for actors, which are common in the film industry and have profound social consequences, yet have been entirely overlooked by legal scholars. Such announcements or breakdowns are used to channel people of color and women to low-paying, marginal roles. Title VII provides no categorical exception for this highly unusual practice – it makes no exception for race and contains only a narrow bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) defense with respect to sex.”

    “Casting discrimination is illegal, and identifying race or ethnicity or gender in job ads is illegal, but they continue to get away with the aw-shucks-that’s-how-we’ve-always-done-it defense (and nobody sues if they want to work in that industry).”


  19. “And I don’t think discrimination law applies, and that’s based on having a lot of friends who are actors.”

    Look, I don’t mean to be a total jackass, here. But — seriously? Come on, now. I do like to say I learn all my trial strategy from Law & Order, but I don’t really mean it!


  20. It’s nice that my marketing acumen has left my name associated with “gravitas,” but I am going to guess that, in their minds, “blue collar” and “gay” aren’t quite compatible. Besides, I am still holding out for my own sitcom.

    The EEOC complaint seems like a good idea to me. Or why not e-mail Mr. McC to say that you are interested in the job? His response might be good fodder for another blog post (and more evidence for the EEOC file).


  21. Meh–seems like a lot of trouble, GayProf. Plus, I’m fresh out of 8″x10″ glossies, and my horse is in the shop.

    What I find (moderately) interesting is that this casting assistant bothered to circulate the ad among professional historians at all. It’s pretty much an ad for an actor to play a “character,” since there’s no particular education or professional background required. It’s all about having the right look, not the right training.

    Why does the “History” Channel bother to talk to professional historians, anyway? We’re not Hollywood-pretty (present company excepted of course!) and does their viewing audience really care if college- or university-affiliated historians are reading their crummy scripts? Can’t they get better-looking people to sit in front of a bookcase and intone solemnly and with an informed mien about whatever?

    (Kind of like that old Tylenol commercial with the actor who said, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV. . . “)

    Emma–thanks for the additional info and links.


  22. Well, now I need to answer Emma, at least on behalf of my friends in the acting profession–some members of Actors Equity, some not, one of whom who has been on Law and Order. But they all know what laws apply to their profession. (And no more casualness in blog posts for me!)

    Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 recognizes an exception termed “bona fide occupational qualifications” (BFOQ): it permits discriminatory practices in employment if a person’s “religion, sex, or national origin is a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of that particular business or enterprise.”

    This exception has protected practices in the entertainment and media industries, but it has come under scrutiny–that is to say, there is a rising criticism of employers’ claiming the BFOQ exception. As UCLA professor of law Russell Robinson found in 2006 (and I quote from the UCLA news website), many casting calls restrict, “without any strong narrative justification, the sex and race of the actors who may audition…. According to Robinson, casting is a form of free speech that may be protected under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, depending on the circumstances. This extends to race- or gender-based casting when these traits are integral to the storyline. But, Robinson said, there are many exceptions that permit the government to regulate certain speech in certain ways.

    ‘I argue that Title VII’s regulation of casting announcements falls into an exception,’ he said. He added that he did not believe that complying with Title VII would entail using quotas but rather the consideration of actors of color and women in many more roles.” (

    I certainly don’t agree with A&E’s practices and I certainly think “The History Channel” is a misnomer. But the law appears to be on the company’s side: given the History Channel’s audience demographic, the company could prove that the success of its business is dependent on the choice described in the casting call. Here’s the demographic, from the A8 E Website: “The channel attracts an upscale, predominantly male viewer, in the 25-54 demographics, that is coveted by advertisers.”


  23. I should have read up the page more a bit more–Emma and I are, more or less in agreement with the issue of casting calls and discrimination. In short, such restrictive casting calls have become accepted as business as usual–but so were sex- and race-segregated classified ads when I was a youngster. But the BFOQ exception must be defended in three ways: (1) that there isn’t a disparate impact on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; (2) that the employer has a significant need to maintain the practice even if a disparate impact is shown (that is, it would be detrimental to the business or it’s “central” to its mission); and (3) that there is no less-restrictive or reasonable alternative.


  24. “But they all know what laws apply to their profession.”

    I’d bet they don’t. The vast, vast majority of folks in any profession don’t know what laws apply to them, even unionized folks. Which is not a criticism, but an observation.

    Also, posts with links get put in moderation, so we probably cross-posted.


  25. “It’s pretty much an ad for an actor to play a “character,” since there’s no particular education or professional background required.”

    Countervailing evidence is the email sent to your friend that explicitly stated:

    “We are looking for a host with a strong background in American history.”

    and explicitly requested that academics apply for the job.

    Which is to say: don’t be too quick to characterize the facts in front of you, because 1) there’s evidence that it’s not just a casting call and 2) even if it is, there’s no evidence that it being a casting call means it’s exempt from discrimination laws.

    You don’t have to do anything that I’ve suggested, but I think mistaken (IMO) justifications are un-useful. Simply choosing not to take the avenue I’ve suggested is perfectly fine all by itself.


  26. I would second Emma’s most recent point. One colleague of mine–who teaches courses about the civil rights movement!–claimed not to know it was not permissible to take parental status or sexual orientation when s/he suggested that we should stop cutting women a break with tenure clock stoppages and that we should openly favor gay candidates during searches. (On the latter: s/he believed that our department should keep a quota so that there would be the same ratio of gay and lesbian professors that were there when s/he arrived.)

    I figured that if people who write and teach about civil rights don’t know how to navigate these issues carefully, lots of other people might not either.


  27. And, funny, Historiann, but Tylenol actually helped to build a pretty good and pretty serious history franchise back East, too!

    I’m not a lawyer and I don’t even play one on t.v., but I don’t think that the success of the business enterprise is the measure at the core of the BFOQ concept. One of my formative memories from the Civil Rights era was of one Lester Maddox, a Georgia restauranteur, who literally ran out into his parking lot waving a headless axe-handle to drive away would be African-American customers. His pathetic and plainly disingenuous rationale went something like “I haven’t got anything aginst [N-word] people. Some of my best friends are [N-word] people. But my customers don’t like them and I have to think of that or I’ll be out of business.” I don’t think you could sell that concept as legitimate even in the mid-1960s, much less now. I recognize that customers are not would-be employees or applicants, but I’m doubtful whether you could make something hold up on BFOQ grounds unless you could show that the candidate you don’t want to hire but would have to simply can’t carry out the function, on its own terms. And I would still question the description of this talking head as being a “character” rather than an agent. More like using a gender criterion in the profile for a news anchor position.

    Although, now that I think of it, Christine Craft did get run out of that news job in Kansas City on the basis of pretty unmetricized judgements about her presumed “heft,” or gravitas, with the viewer base. Juries kept finding for her, and appeals judges overturning the juries. Pretty ironic.


  28. In the “they should know better” category:

    A few years ago, a colleague at Major Prestigious University circulated to a group of colleagues in my field a job posting, as is often done, asking us to encourage people to apply for an assistant professorship. The job description called for someone under 40. I called my contact in my university’s general counsel’s office and read it to her. She confirmed that it was completely illegal. I was contemplating how to phrase my reply to the person who circulated the post without pissing hir off, since I had several students who would be applying for the position. However, within 24 hours, before I had properly composed my e-mail, I received a new mass e-mail, saying that ze had accidentally sent an erroneous job description and would we please replace it with this new one (which did not mention an age). So someone had pointed out to hir how illegal it was. But clearly some discussion had gone on in that department about how they needed some new young people. It is beyond me how that department could let that happen.


  29. A very similar job ad went around a few years ago looking for archaeologists. It also basically said “lady archaeologists need not apply.” When called on it, the response of the network was, if I recall, all about how they need to cast certain types to appeal to their viewers. Translation: “We traffic in stereotypes to make money.”


  30. I know this is kind of sick, but this discussion makes me really want to see the History channel’s new show. I think because the concept seems so utterly bizarre to me. I know it would probably make me want to throw up a little (the job ad itself does that!), but it would be interesting to see how their intersection of history and pop culture works. Maybe they’ll work a a deal with “Beck University” and Glenn Beck can be their host!

    As for the “they should know better” category – there are really too many examples of this. Academics are always breaking the law, especially in search discussions, even when they are informed as to the content of the law. I’ve heard some pretty outrageous things, both in person and via the grapevine.


  31. Uh, I think “doughy” (Beck) ain’t exactly included in my understanding of the word “rugged.”

    Emma (upthread): the advertisement mentions nothing about academic training or qualifications, which is all I was noting. I wasn’t commenting on the legality or illegality of the ad. I’m not impressed that it was sent to academic historians–the qualifications are clearly all about gender, age, and body/personality type, which is why I wondered why they bothered to ask professional historians.


  32. I’m with filing a complaint with the EEOC. But this stuff is standard in TV. A friend in the UK told me some years ago that the BBC was looking for a young (30ish) man to host a history show; the lucky winner got the job, and that’s now his job.

    I think it’s very hard to remain active as an academic historian and do lots of TV presenting — they call for different things. That’s not good or bad, it just is.


  33. Now, if only they had asked if we could find a short, pale, male American historian who has a baseball fetish, I could fill Fenway with suggestions. . . even the bleachers!

    That’s only because Fenway is a tiny little weak feeble ineffectual ballpark, just like the tiny little weak feeble ineffectual fucken Red Socks.


  34. “Emma (upthread): the advertisement mentions nothing about academic training or qualifications, which is all I was noting.”

    Yes, I know. But I was pointing out that the *email* DID ask for specific qualifications, i.e. a background in American history, and was sent to persons with specific qualifications, academics.

    I don’t want to belabor this, but I do think it’s an important point for people to understand because it affects their employment and how they understand their rights.

    Yes, there is some evidence that academic qualifications are not a requirement for the job. But there is *also* some evidence that academic qualifications are part of the job description. There’s evidence on *both* sides. Coming down on one side of the evidence at this point simply does the defendant’s job for them by assuming discrimination out of the picture.


  35. Pingback: Up to my neck in work, buttercream ruffles : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  36. It’s a casting call for a TV show. (The first paragraph of the letter explains that: “I’m a casting associate working on a new show . . . [w]e are currently casting hosts[.]”) For entertainment gigs, it is perfectly legal for employers to seek a specific type for the job. It’s not employment discrimination for a theatre to hire a woman to play Lady Macbeth, and it’s not discrimination to seek a male host for a game show.

    What they’re seeking to cast is a rugged-looking guy who happens to be a historian, not a historian who must be a guy. This is not discrimination. This is showbiz.


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