History Detectives Impresses Again With Its Special Investigations

Courtesy: PBS

Courtesy: PBS

PBS has proven time and again in recent years that it is the last bastion of truly worthwhile educational programming.  While History Channel, Discovery Channel, and others of their ilk have continued to fall victim to their heads’ lust for reality TV programming, PBS has held its guns and stood its ground, becoming the gold standard for educational programming.  One show that has helped to make PBS the gold standard is its fan favorite series History Detectives.  PBS recently released a new History Detectives special to DVD titled History Detectives: Special Investigations.  Not that PBS needs it at this point, but this DVD is more proof of why the series is such a fan favorite and why PBS continues to help make PBS the leader in quality educational programming.  Audiences, whether they be new to the series or are more familiar with it, will appreciate that the series delves into some of history’s greatest mysteries in this new special.  That’s a change from its normal format.  Those that are less familiar with History Detectives will appreciate that it uses a rather familiar format in investigating each of the special’s mysteries.  And last but hardly least of all, in none of the cases studied in this special does the team try to prove or disprove any theory set forth.  The team merely investigates the facts and leaves the rest up to viewers.  When audiences take into consideration all three of the factors noted here, they will agree that this DVD proves once more why History Detectives is one of the best series on television for educators and lovers of history, and why PBS remains today the gold standard in quality educational programming.

History Detectives is one of PBS’ best programs.  It is a favorite among educators and lovers of history.  The main reason for this is that it presents history at its purest.  It has never attempted to over-glorify history and make it sexy for the sake of eyeballs to put it bluntly.  It takes the road far less traveled today in comparison to programs on the likes of History, Discovery, Destination America and others under those corporate umbrellas.  This latest release from History Detectives proves why that approach has–and continues to–make it a fan favorite.  Normally, History Detectives focuses on the history behind items and documents owned by ordinary people.  This time though, it turns the focus to a pair of history’s greatest mysteries and a couple that while not as well-known are just as interesting.  The two more well-known of the mysteries presented here center on famed band leader Glenn Miller and Jimmy Hoffa.  The lesser known of the mysteries presented here focus on the river boat Sultana and on a group of servant girls from Texas.  The study on Glenn Miller is exactly what audiences expect.  It examines the possible fate of the famed band leader.  The findings from the study are pretty interesting to say the least.  That’s because they leave just as many questions as answers.  Unlike the study on Miller, the study on Hoffa isn’t what audiences might think.  Instead of focusing on his fate–as so many do–this episode focuses on who might have been responsible for his disappearance.  The findings here are just as eye opening as the theories concerning where he may be.  Some may be surprised to learn that apparently Hoffa even had a link to none other than President Richard Nixon.  That’s just one of many rather interesting facts that audiences will learn from this episode. As if this isn’t enough, the episode centering on the riverboat Sultana brings up thoughts of the Maine and its controversy.  It might event raise thoughts of the Titanic disaster.  And the story centering on the murders of the young Teas servant girls will engage audiences just as much.  As should be evident by now, these stories by themselves more than make History Detectives: Special Investigations worth the watch by any educator or history lover in general.

The stories that make up History Detectives: Special Investigations are by themselves more than enough reason for audiences to check out this new DVD.  The manner in which the team approaches each investigation is another reason that audiences will appreciate this special.  Whether or not they are familiar with this series, audiences will recognize the manner in which the team approaches each case.  It is a formula that was once used in Discovery’s Mythbusters before the team of Kari, Grant and Tory was let go.  The only difference is that unlike Mythbusters, the show’s heads and hosts don’t try to make the investigations sexy for the sake of eyeballs.  It’s a welcome breath of fresh air.  It proves that history doesn’t have to be sexy to be interesting.  It’s just one more way that this latest release from PBS and History Detectives prove the value of both collectively.

The cases presented here and the manner in which each one is investigated together make History Detectives: Special Investigations solid proof of why this series is so belived by fans and why it makes PBS so invaluable to audiences today.  While both of the factors noted here play their own important role to the enjoyment of this presentation, there is one more aspect of this DVD that makes it so enjoyable for audiences.  That last aspect is the fact that within the course of the investigations, at no point does the team of Wes Cowan, Kaiama Glover, and Tukufu Zuberi try to prove or disprove any of the theories around which each case centers.  Rather they merely investigate each case, presenting the facts as they find them.  The rest is left up to audiences to decide for themselves.  In the case of Glenn Miller’s disappearance, audiences are left with a strong probability in terms of what might have actually happened.  But because his body was never recovered, audiences are still left to decide for themselves if the facts gathered actually lead to anything solid.  And in the case of Hoffa’s disappearance, audiences are left just as much to decide for themselves if the mob actually played a role in his disappearance or if in fact Nixon himself might have played a role.  The team never tries to actually say yeah or nay in the end.  They just gather the information needed to make educated guesses in each case.  Such approach serves to make each case all the more enthralling that each already was to begin with.  The end result is a special that leaves audiences wanting History Detectives to investigate some of history’s other major mysteries between its regular investgations.

Next to PBS’ History Detectives, the only other history based series on television today that present any real value anymore are Travel Channel’s Mysteries at the Museum and History’s American Pickers.  While both series offer their own value to audiences, History Detectives still comes in first.  Special Investigations is more proof of that.  The cases and the team’s approach to each case more than make this series a joy for viewers.  The fact that it never really sets out to prove or disprove any theory, but rather simply investigates each one makes these episodes even more enthralling.  Altogether, all three factors together make this collection of investigations one that every educator and lover of history should have in their own personal collection.  It is available now on DVD and can be ordered direct from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=38349276&cp=&sr=1&kw=history+detectives+special+investigations&origkw=History+Detectives+Special+Investigations&parentPage=search.  More information on this release and all of the latest news from History Detectives is available online at:

Website: http://www.pbs.org/historydetectives

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/historydetectives

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The Picks And The Fun Keep Coming In American Pickers Volume Four

Courtesy: History Channel/A&E Entertainment

Reality shows are all over television today.  They’re a dime a dozen.  Any viewer who has surfed through the channels even once knows that nearly every network on television—if not every network—is top heavy with reality television series.  So the question is what to watch?  This critic personally recommends History Channel’s hit series, “American Pickers.”  There might be those out there who are unable to check it out for one reason or another.  Fret not.  The show is available on DVD.  And the latest collection of episodes, “American Pickers Volume Four” is available on DVD now, too.  Volume Four has what are some of the best episodes from the series to date.  In Volume Four, Mike and Frank travel to upstate New York where they meet Kathy.  Kathy has inherited her late father’s farm and is looking to sell all the things that her father had accumulated in his life so as to pay for the farm.  That’s just part of the guys’ adventure through New York.  In another of the pair’s adventures, Mike and Frank trek through Tennessee where they meet one of the most memorable individuals in the show’s history.  He simply goes by the name, “Junior.”  Those episodes and more are all in “American Pickers Volume Four.”

In the episode, “Too Hot To Handle” Mike and Frank are driving through upstate New York.  The pair happens on Kathy.  She and her husband had inherited her father’s farm after his death.  Her story of her father is another prime example of what makes American Pickers such a great show.  She explains that her father had served in WWII, and how that linked to his massive accumulation of stuff.  Ironically, if not for her father’s collection, Mike and Frank might never have met Kathy and her husband.  While they’re visiting with the couple, Mike picks a pile of bicycle parts that dated circa 1890’s.  Frank, on the other hand, finds an old Yankee Z motorcycle, which he bundles with a Newark news paper box and oil can of sorts for $250.  The picks don’t end there.  Mike finds a pond boat, which he picks for $20.  He follows that up with a pick of a gas tank from a 1930’s era Harley Davidson motorcycle.  He bundles the gas tank with a classic radio for $100.  From there, Mike also finds an old Ribbon mic that he gets for $125.

After Mike and Frank end their visit with Kathy and her husband, it’s off to Lincoln, New York, where they get some help from the local fire department to get into a building that’s going to be torn down.  Once it’s torn down, the land on which it stands was to be donated to that fire department.  The guys make a pretty good pick here, too.  Frank finds an old G.I. Joe jeep and trailer that he gets for $20.  Mike finds an old carousel toy that he gets for $40.

The first two stops on Mike and Frank’s trip through upstate New York yield lots of good picks, and some equally great stories.  But the one stop that stood out more than the others in this trip was the guys’ visit with mother and daughter Marlene and Julia.  The pair lived in a house that was used as a stopping point on the Underground Railroad.  Mike and Frank are even shown the hidden passages used by slaves to hide in the house.  They find their share of great picks during their visit.  As great as the picks are, what makes this stop so interesting is that apparently Marlene’s daughter, Julia, turns out to have quite the crush on Frank.  Even Mike jokes with him about it.  The way that she flirts with Frank will have audiences rolling.  It makes this stop one of the most memorable in the show’s run so far.

Speaking of memorable moments, the guys have another truly memorable moment later in Volume Four in the episode, “Keep Out.”  The guys are in Tennessee during this episode.  As they’re driving through the state, they happen on a property that’s loaded with really cool stuff.  But it’s also loaded with signs warning people to stay away and to keep out, etc.  Mike and Frank take a risk and drive up anyway.  What they find is a really big tough looking guy who simply goes by the name of “Junior.”  “Junior” looks tough, but as the guys find out during their visit, he’s really just a “softie.”  It turns out that he’s willing to sell his stuff to Mike and Frank.  The reason he’s willing to sell is really the heart of what makes this episode so memorable.  It turns out that “Junior’s” wife had died a year ago.  So he realized all the stuff on his property was just stuff.  Without her there it didn’t mean anything anymore.  So for all his big touch and gruff exterior, here was a guy who was obviously a very gentle and loving person.  That one moment when “Junior” tells Mike and Frank about his wife, it was obvious how much he loved her.  He even starts to tear up a little talking about her.  Yet again, more proof of this show’s heart.  Sure the guys make a lot of picks, including a Dukes of Hazzard garbage can and tray and a PET ice cream sign.  But that single moment, not the picks, is what stands out in the entire episode.  Of course, it isn’t the only visit that the guys make during this episode.  Audiences can check out who else Mike and Frank meet during their trip through Tennessee when they get the double disc set themselves.  “American Pickers Volume Four” is available now.  It can be ordered online at http://shop.history.com 

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American Pickers Volume Three is one great pick

Reality shows are all the rage right now.  It seems that nearly every network is dominated by reality shows.  From the Big Four (CBS, NBC, ABC, and FOX) to the major cable networks, viewers are bombarded by reality shows every day.  There is such a glut of reality shows that one can’t help but wonder which shows will still be standing when and if the reality show industry finally implodes on itself.  When and if that day comes, suffice to say that one of the few shows that will still be standing is History Channel’s hit show, American Pickers.  The show’s newest collection, “American Pickers:  Volume Three” is proof of that. 

“American Pickers:  Volume Three” was released Tuesday.  And the episodes contained on this new collection are some of the best proof of what makes this show stand out in an ocean of reality shows.  What makes American Pickers such a great program is that unlike so many of the other shows of its ilk, it takes viewers across the backroads of America.  It’s not so much about the value of the stuff that Mike and Frank pick.  It’s about learning about America’s history through the nation’s people.  The people that Mike and Frank meet come from every walk of life.  Their stories are the “people’s stories.”  One could almost argue that what American Pickers does is it combines the best elements of PBS’ Antiques Roadshow with legendary CBS newsman Walter Cronkite’s travels across America.  Now, with the third volume of episodes, fans get another chance to see just what makes American Pickers such a great show.  In Volume Three, Mike and Frank meet a man named Larry.  Larry’s “home made town” epitomizes what American Pickers is all about.  They also meet Hobo Jack, who is literally a hobo.  But his stories and his stuff are worth their weight in rusty gold.  And in what is one of the show’s best episodes yet, Mike and Frank finally let Danielle go picking.  She proves that she’s got what it takes, while Frank learns a hard lesson about doing Danielle’s job.

Volume Three is loaded with great episodes on its two discs.  Among all the great episodes, one of the best is “Mike’s Breakdown.”  This episode opens with the guys meeting Jan Burton.  Danielle had told them that Jan had a 1965 Honda motorcycle.  But she didn’t tell them what line the bike was.  Frank, hoping it was a Scrambler, is excited.  But then when Jan tells Frank that the bike was indeed a Scrambler but had already been sold, it hits him pretty hard.  They do find an old printing press, though.  At the end of the episode, they get their friend, “Mushroom” to appraise it for them.  After looking it over and talking to them about it, he gives it a pretty hefty price tag, at which they’re obviously very happy. 

Next up, they meet a gentleman named Larry in Wisconsin.  Larry had saved loads of old buildings that were going to be torn down, and actually made his own “home made town” called Unionville with them.  As Mike notes, Larry is one of the reasons that he loves doing what he does.  Larry shows that he has respect for America’s history and is trying to preserve it for future generations so they’ll remember America’s past.  The town looks like a life size model town right out of a train set.  Its condition is stunningly impressive.  While they’re touring the “town”, Frank finds a beautiful old “leadlight.”  The guys also find a DX oil sign and an old liquor store sign.  While those were the only real picks they found, Larry’s “town” and his stories about how he brought it together were the real find.  Again, it is a perfect example of what makes American Pickers so great.  It’s not always about the picks.  It’s also about discovering pieces of America’s history.  The stories are just as valuable as the finds.

The final segment of this episode finds Mike and Frank meeting a guy named Ted.  Ted’s house is absolutely amazing.  It’s beyond description.  It really is one of those things that has to be seen to be believed *hint hint*.  Among all the stuff that Ted has, he has fake aliens that were used as props in a little show by the name of Roswell.  He also has a perfect condition porcelain Goodyear tires sign and loads more.  After getting the picks that they wanted, the guys head back to Iowa.  But on the way, they have to call Mike’s brother after the van breaks down.  Frank had been complaining about feeling something weird.  But Mike didn’t believe him until it finally happened.  They do get back to the shop in the end, which is when the printing press is appraised.  And as “punishment” for not listening to Frank, Mike has to pull weeds outside the store while he [Frank] and Danielle kick back and enjoy a cold drink.

In another example of what makes AP such a great show, Mike and Frank meet a Vietnam Veteran named Tony.  Mike and Frank don’t even discover this until later in the first segment of the episode, “Hobo Jack.”  Tony’s got loads of classic stuff, including a korean helmet and grenades.  He also has a classic toy Dick Tracy car that Frank falls for.  Frank also manages to get Tony to sell him a classic movie projector and giant pair of antlers in a bundle. 

Next up Mike and Frank meet Ken in their cross country touring.  Ken has some stuff that the guys get.  They pick out an urn, some chairs, and a bicycle that he was keeping for a friend.

After meeting Tony and Ken, Mike and Frank are still looking for the “golden pick” that could help the shop bring in some real money.  That’s when they come upon real life hobo named Hobo Jack.  Jack doesn’t have a house.  He lives way out in the forest.  And while he and his surroundings look every part the hobo lifestyle, his stuff is just as great a find.  While going through Jack’s buildings, Frank finds a 1921 V-Twin engine for an Indian motorcycle.  It takes over an hour, but Mike finds the transmission that goes with the engine.  The guys also find an old Excelsior bicycle and a 2-cycle engine that turns out to be one heck of a find after having it appraised.  The  engine turns out to be a Curtiss motor.  It’s appraised at $7,000.  That’s a good thing for Mike since he had bought it for $3,000.  The bike itself was appraised at $8,000.  He had bought the bike for $6,000.  So in total, Mike spent $9,000.  But the total appraisal for the two would bring in upwards of $15,000.

In another of the collection’s best episodes, Danielle finally gets to go picking.  After having a bit of a blowup with Frank, she and Frank agree that Frank would give her job a try, while she goes out picking with Mike.  Danielle starts out slow.  But it doesn’t take her long to catch on and take off.  The real fun starts for Danielle when she and Mike meet Jesse and Ricardo in Pennsylvania.  These two guys are eccentric to say the least.  But when she discovers a bunch of vintage clothes in their equally eccentric home, she takes off.  Frank, on the other hand, isn’t doing so well trying to do Danielle’s job.  After meeting Jesse and Ricardo, Mike and Danielle meet Steve and Bill, who work at the Hotel Tidioute in PA.  Danielle finds a portrait of a woman in what looks like Victorian dress.  She falls in love with it.  She decides to start flirting with Steve and Bill in order to get a deal.  And it works.  All four later go to the hotel’s basement, where Mike finds a really old pinball game.  He gets Danielle to use her “womanly ways” to get Steve and Bill to come down on their price.  And do they ever.  They go from wanting a price in the triple digits all the way down to $90.  Mike and Danielle take the pinball machine to have it appraised.  They’re pleasantly surprised when it’s given a number in the range of $800.  To make things better, the machine works, too.When they finally get back to the shop, Danielle tells Frank about the pick, to which he’s very impressed.  Danielle does admit that she’s ready to get back to her job, though.  So everyone did learn a lesson in the end. 

American Pickers is one the best shows in the mass of reality tv today.  It’s such a simple show.  But its general construction is what makes it so great.  And this newest volume from the show proves why it is a leader among the pack.  Whether for the episodes listed here or the others included in the set, “American Pickers Volume Three” is one of the few reality tv shows on dvd worth picking up this year.  Anyone that wants to check out this brand new double disc set can get it through History Channel’s shop site, http//shop.history.com.

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