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“Who Do You Think You Are?” on NBC

Michael James Brown

Below is a condensed email that I received on 2/27/10 from Megan Smolenyak, founder of Roots Television.com, regarding the closing of the Roots Television.com site, and the upcoming start of a show called “Who Do You Think You Are?” on NBC.

Dear RootsTelevision.com Viewer,
It’s with mixed feelings that I’m sharing the news that I will be closing RootsTelevision.com (RTV) as of March 10th. Back in 2006, RTV was launched to fill a void. As I wrote at the time:

“We’ve been perplexed for a long time. These days, there’s a horse channel, a wine channel, a sailing channel, a poker channel, a guitar channel, and even a shipwreck channel. So why, isn’t there a channel servicing the millions of people interested in genealogy and family history?”

The good news is that this yawning gap is now being filled. Genealogy is finally going mainstream. Some of you are probably already watching Faces of America on PBS and The Generations Project on BYU. And many, I’m sure, have heard of the imminent launch on NBC of Who Do You Think You Are? (a series I’m proud to be affiliated with, and for which, I wrote the companion book). The non-genealogical world is finally waking up to the long overlooked potential of what we roots-sleuths do on a daily basis, as you can read in this article:

http://www.nbcmiami.com/entertainment/television/Roots-TV-Become-New-Branch-of-Reality-TV-85002442.html

I’m honored to have had the opportunity to fill this void for more than three years. I hope that you have enjoyed the hundreds of high quality videos that RootsTelevision.com has produced or selected. It’s been a privilege to give the genealogical community this resource, but this seems the appropriate time to move on.
Warmly,
Megan Smolenyak

I really don’t want this to sound like sour grapes, because I think people should watch the shows mentioned above. The more TV programming people can watch that supports and reinforces the ideas that we are all the same, only brings people closer to my project which doesn’t just point it out, but is more focused on what to do going forward. They want to make good TV, I want to solve the problem.

I wanted to use Megan’s email to highlight a couple of other things. Two other questions I get asked all the time are: “Have you ever thought about submitting your project to ‘Oprah’, or ‘Dr. Phil’, etc.” “Are you making any money with the project?” In true OAP tradition, the answer to both questions is yes and no.

The project wasn’t conceived with making money in mind. (So in one way It is a HUGE success!) If you remember from previous updates, I have posted more than half of the project to my site (www.otherawarenessproject.com), You Tube, and Facebook, essentially giving it away. When I make presentations, I try to focus on the parts that haven’t been posted anywhere else. I always knew that when finished, I would make most of the money from this project from speaking engagements. That has been the plan all along. I was a stand up comic. I like the performance, getting out and meeting people aspects of the whole project.

One of the connections here is that Roots Television was one of the very first places I tried to submit video clips. I have email correspondence with Roots Television from as early as 3/05/07! In the beginning I did submit to a list of shows, networks, potential sponsors, etc., including Oprah, Dr. Phil, and a bunch more.

Here is a link to Oprah’s submission policy, which is roughly the same as everyone else’s, including Facebook’s! Basically, what they are saying is whatever you send, they own, and THEY can use in whatever form THEY want into perpetuity! One of the tough things for artists to do is talk about or expose their projects, without giving it all away for other people to profit from. It’s called the entertainment business for a reason.

https://www.oprah.com/ownshow/plug_form.html?plug_id=3337311

After I started posting clips on You Tube and Facebook, I have been approached by several “TV people” who liked the idea of the Other Awareness Project, but want to change it in one way or another. They mostly want to add celebrities, just like the NBC show, “Who Do You Think You Are?”, or Professor Gates show on PBS, ‘Faces of America’, and focus on their stories. I have been around marketing and entertainment long enough to know why celebrities make for “good television” and can instantly add relevance to any project in our TV dominated society. Again, they want to make good TV, I want to be involved in solving the problem.

One of the things I really like about the Other Awareness Project is that I was completely unaffiliated with any organizations as I was working on the project. Didn’t take any money from any outside source. If you remember that artists like Simon Rodia, creator of the Watts Towers, Cristo & Jeanne Claude, creator of The Gates and other projects, and Blues musicians, such as Howlin’ Wolf, are big influences on the Other Awareness Project, then I hope you understand that I am of the belief that artists shouldn’t ask anyone for money or resources to complete their projects. They shouldn’t ask other people what they think about their projects. As the artist, I should focus on what I’m trying to create or bring into existence. It’s not a committee decision!

Of course that has it’s pluses and minuses, but you know that going in to it. The plus is I can do what I want as far as questions, direction, subjects, etc. I have truly enjoyed all the variations of the project that might not directly translate into money. One of the minuses, is that it is harder to get anyone to work with you if they can’t see how they are going to profit from the project. ALL shows on TV are in business to make money for THEIR brand! Build THEIR network!

But, I think that misses the point of solving the “problem”. Each of the programs mentioned earlier are meant to be a series, run season after season. Each of the programs are focused on what other people (celebrities) think and discover about themselves. The Other Awareness Project, and the film component is just one part, is about regular people and your self-identification. Since the information on any of the forms presented to you, via the census or in a job application, etc. is about your self-identification, my project is about your self-identification and how much real information is filtered down to real people.

In the complete bibliography for the project I reference a lot of sources, but that’s only to be thorough and because I read a lot. ALL of the factual information I talk about can be found on Wikipedia. And that’s not because I think they are the only correct source, it’s because they are the quickest place where a regular person can post what they believe to be the more correct answer and have other people support or make corrections.

If you have ever heard me speak at one of my events, you might remember me saying TV (mass media)  is not made to solve problems. In my opinion, its sole purpose has become to sell you stuff, lock you into wanting more and more stuff, always seeing things as a problem that can only solved by buying some brand or belonging to some organization.

Since the whole conversation is about your self-identification, you can only really solve the problem for yourself. The way I see it, if I’m talking to a room of 140 people, like there was at Clarion University back in February, then I’m having 140 simultaneous conversations.

Anyway, watch the other shows and stay tuned for a bunch of interesting Other Awareness Project presentations this summer!

MJB

mjb@otherawarenessproject.com

ps thanks for continuing to be a fan of the project!

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