Histories of Greece on the small screen

Greece may not be the most obvious candidate to be educated anew on its own history, especially via commercial television shows generated from abroad, but that is precisely what is to happen next week via a new joint initiative between satellite TV provider Nova and The History Channel. Starting Monday, The History Channel, via Nova, will broadcast «Greek History Week,» a seven-day series of historical documentaries devoted to Greek themes, during prime evening hours. The 30-90 minute shows, in English with Greek subtitles, open on Monday with Part I of a seven-part series on «Secrets of Archaeology,» followed by a show on legendary Greek military strategists. Tuesday’s offerings feature Part II of «Secrets,» a show on Delphi and Part I (of four) on the rise and fall of the Spartans. Wednesday’s include the first of three episodes on Alexander the Great, preceded by an hour-long documentary on Maria Callas. Other modern subjects include the Onassis dynasty and the building of the Athens metro, although most are devoted to antiquity; there is even a presentation on Atlantis Saturday evening. Evening viewing begins at 7 p.m. (except Sunday, when it starts an hour later) and runs around three hours per night. New old history Greek customers have had 24-hour access to The History Channel since September, when it started broadcasting on Nova, but this is, ironically, the channel’s first concentrated programming on Greek history shown in this country. This initiative is important since Greece «wrote the West’s first histories,» according to THC’s Managing Director Geoff Metzer at Tuesday’s presentation. Discussions are now under way to add Greek personalities and figures to another of the channel’s initiatives, its «Biography» series. The History Channel, started in 1995, now reaches around 200 million households worldwide in 30 countries, broadcasting in some 20 languages. This deal has been done by its British arm, The History Channel UK, a joint venture between BSkyB and US broadcaster A&E Television Networks (AETN). Nova now has around a quarter of a million household subscribers in Greece and Cyprus and the numbers are growing, said the company’s Katerina Kaskanioti, around 10 percent a year. Shows commissioned by The History Channel, according to its parent network AETN’s website, «reveal the power and passion of history, allowing viewers to experience history personally and connect their own lives to the great lives and events of the past.» Professional historians may occasionally wince at the results, but Kaskanioti believes that this sort of programming will not only help expose Greek culture to a worldwide audience, but will give younger viewers a chance to learn more about their country’s rich heritage. Educational and reach-out efforts, involving libraries and schools, also give an extra-television dimension to the network. Another undertaking is «Photos for the Future,» started three years ago, which has so far generated some 12,000 photo submissions and two published volumes. All in all it is an «exciting future before us,» said Metzer, who likens his network to that of a public service broadcaster, offering «something people know about, but want to know more about.» Production is costly and time-consuming, Metzer told Kathimerini English Edition, ranging roughly from $100,000-$500,000 for an hour’s show depending on e.g. the production company chosen, photography styles used and archival material needed; most shows need six to eight months between conception and final product. Interviews, re-enactments, and expert commentaries, some of them local, are used as programmatic vehicles.