That’s a Wrap!

By Diane Haddad Premium

America’s first prime-time network genealogy TV show wrapped up season one April 30. It was an exciting—and even somewhat controversial—ride for family historians. Here’s a look at the show’s first run; you can see episode recaps, show-related tweets and more at <>.
Your Two Cents
Comments in our “Who Do You Think You Are?” Forum <> capture the range of genealogists’ opinions about the show. Visit the forum to see more remarks from your fellow researchers—and to leave your own.

  • I think it’s a fantastic show. What it does best is capture the excitement of finding your place in history and thus making history come alive. Where it fails, in my opinion, is in making genealogy research look too easy. —AlanRRT
  • If I were new to genealogy, I’d be discouraged, thinking I’d have to be wealthy to jet across continents or countries to obtain information. They ought to have a behind-the-scenes episode that shows the work necessary to bring those tidbits of information to the screen. —nporter
  • Yes, there will be people intrigued by the show who may not get past asking their parents about their ancestors or a couple hours of research. The takeaway is that person will know a bit more about their ancestors than they did before … That is good. —lhmatt
  • I would like to see some “average” families trace their roots. —dreyjazzbear3
  • What about the show [“Find My Family” on ABC]? That was regular people and much more touching, but it was cancelled right away. I think this new show may make some people more interested in genealogy. —tajicat
  • [Since the show began] I’ve had a big jump in the number of e-mails I receive from people asking about folks in my tree. —rtanyon
  • I was sadly disappointed that genealogy research techniques and methodology were basically ignored. —Buckeyeroots
  • The history has been wonderful, and I can only hope it inspires some young people to know more about our country. —kvsmm194
Behind The Scenes
 Hollywood made it look easy, but that wasn’t reality, says Anastasia Tyler, the <> public relations manager who coordinated the research for the show. She shares these facts and figures:

 Preliminary research was done on more than 20 celebrities; scheduling issues whittled the final number to seven.

 Filming the episodes took 9.5 months.

 The core research team consisted of 30 genealogists; scads of others visited archives, did record lookups and more.

 Researchers spent an average 425 hours on each show.

 Research locales that didn’t appear on screen include many US states, Germany, England, Ukraine, Russia, Ireland, Korea and Canada.

 Repositories celebs and genealogists visited for the show include the Massachusetts Historical Society <>, New England Historic Genealogical Society <>, state archives, courthouses, public libraries, churches and synagogues.

Two Thumbs Up
“Who Do You Think You Are?” ratings were good enough to earn a second season: The Brooke Shields and Susan Sarandon episodes (which, notably, aired after March Madness) ranked first in their time slot, four episodes ranked second, and the Matthew Broderick episode came in third. 
Thomas MacEntee, founder of High-Definition Genealogy <>, summarizes viewer numbers in the chart. He also notes that ratings for total viewers were better than for 18-to-49-year-olds, indicating the show was more popular with an older audience. 

“For its first season—and an abbreviated season at that—‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ did well, and did a good job at bringing the fields of genealogy and family history front-and-center for American viewers,” MacEntee says. He adds that second-season marketing might be challenging without Olympics coverage for airing promos, but producers also have more time to capitalize on the partnership with  

As for comparisons with the 1977 “Roots” miniseries? An estimated 130 to 140 million viewers in 66 percent of households watched “Roots.” “It’s not even close,” MacEntee says, “but to be fair, that was before cable, the internet and DVR had an impact on network television.”
From the September 2010 Family Tree Magazine