The new Irish series of Who Do You Think You Are? kicked off last week and once again, despite myself, I enjoyed it immensely. The franchised format is restrictive and repetitive – a celebrity finds out their ancestry at the same time as the viewer, travels to distant record offices, discovers contrasting family branches and solves knotty research problems by looking in a big book in a picturesque church.
But RTE (and their production company Animo) have grasped very well that the genealogy is only a pretext for telling stories and they can make those stories resonate with their audience, humanising history by making it family history. Also getting a celeb to blub onscreen is good.
I was especially riveted by the first show in the series, which dealt with singer Damien Dempsey, not just because the stories were excellent, but because I had been doing research for him for the past three years. So my jaw hit the floor as what appeared to be my research emerged from the mouths of a variety of historians and genealogists. I paused the list of credits to see if I had a mention, but nothing. Wtf? says I to myself.
So I emailed the friend responsible for organising the show’s research and asked her “Wtf?” She had never heard of my research. So nobody stole my work. She had had to duplicate it because she didn’t know it existed. I then emailed the bould Damien and asked him “Wtf?” And he responded that he hadn’t told the production company about my research. Wtf?
He didn’t say why, but I presume part of the deal was that he had to be discovering things onscreen at the same time as the viewer and so had to be able to feign ignorance. He did a great job of feigning. I foresee many starring roles in the Gaiety panto in his future.
To cap it all, I’m appearing myself in a short segment of one of the next episodes, presenting a piece of research that I didn’t do. Ironic or what?
The moral (to paraphrase Bismarck) is that genealogy TV is like a sausage. Best not to see how it’s made.