Who Do You Think You Are? Isn't As Lame As It Sounds

By Stefanie Lee

Mar 05, 2010

Perhaps you are not that interested in Who Do You Think You Are?, the celebrity geneaology show premiering tonight on NBC. After all, the show's promos rely heavily on name recognition—and while names like Sarah Jessica Parker, Emmitt Smith, and Susan Sarandon don't hurt, who wants to watch a show about somebody else's ancestors? The answer is simple: It's fascinating.

Turns out WDYTYA? doesn't have much to do with the celebrities themselves—it's really about their family histories and the process of researching them. Executive producers Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky whittled their list of stars down to seven—Brooke Shields, Spike Lee, and Matthew Broderick in addition to Parker, Smith, Sarandon, and Kudrow herself—based on their genuinely interesting genealogical tales. All told, Who Do You Think You Are? combines the extensive resources and educational value of a History Channel special with the emotional appeal and famous casting of a primetime TV drama. Without all the soft lighting and acting and stuff.

Still not convinced? Even if you don't care about the featured celebrities or retain what you learned about their families, you might at least be inspired to research your own genealogical history. Watching Sarah Jessica Parker (the subject of tonight's premiere) page through record books and track down relatives will help guide you through the process, should you decide to investigate your own family tree.

After screening the premiere episode, my only complaint is the blatant "Americanization" of the show. Yep, WDYTYA? is a British import—but when it aired across the pond, it ran for a full hour instead of getting the 42-minutes-plus-commercials treatment that comes standard with American network programming. Each installment begins with a one-to-two minute introduction that tells you why the featured celebrity is famous (read: why you should care about his/her family's story), and ends with a black-and-white montage set to cheesy music (cue the Rob Thomas solo!) and peppered with throwaway quotes like "This has changed my life forever!" and "I know so much more now!" Oh, and the logo is a total Six Feet Under ripoff.

But in the end, the show is interesting. It's an admirable (and successful, I hope) attempt by NBC to bring something intelligent and educational to their lineup. And it's a risk, especially because most reality shows rely on competition and charisma (Survivor, Project Runway) or exaggerated emotions and health problems (The Biggest Loser, 16 and Pregnant). WDYTYA?'s charisma comes in the form of seven celebrities who're willing to learn about their families on-camera. As the subjects' familial connections to the Salem Witch Trials, slavery in the South, and the horrors of the Holocaust all surface, we see genuine human emotion from people we might not otherwise see as real—and that makes for quality television.

Who Do You Think You Are? premieres tonight at 8pm on NBC.


Follow TV.com writer Stefanie Lee on Twitter: @StefAtTVDotCom

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  • morrow1950 Jun 06, 2012

    I find this show very interesting and have started researching my own history. I hope it will be back on i would really miss watching how these people find there roots.

  • IndianaMom Mar 07, 2010

    I watched it on Hulu and found it really interesting, but there was a lot of "padding"--the recapping and b&w; montage for example. I can't see it as a full hour, as in England, unless they do 2 celebrities an episode. That might be too much.

  • muggle421 Mar 06, 2010

    This looks kind of interesting.

  • ra8300 Mar 06, 2010

    We watched the premier episode about SJ Parker tonight with our tweeners and really enjoyed it. Of course Parker is a skilled actress so very dynamic in her reactions to the info. Enjoyed the experts explaining the history of the time period. Our kids were talking about the history and asking questions to clarify what was said, so we enjoyed it. Only complaint was too much recapping after every commercial - but will be well worth recording and skipping the recaps. We'll keep watching.

  • joy9585 Mar 06, 2010

    I forgot this was on and didn't DVR it! Is it on Hulu or somewhere else when I can catch it?

  • jaynebosco Mar 06, 2010

    I watched a similar program that just finishing airing on PBS with a number of well-known celebrities and it was fascinating learning that Meryl Streep's family on her mom's side had been in the US since the 1600s and that Eva Longria's family was originally from Spain and it was fascinating hearing that Yo-Yo Ma's family had been keeping records of the family for about 13 generations. What was most fascinating about the program was how each of the participants were somehow related to another one of the participants (they each gave a DNA sample that was able to find that they had a common ancestor within a 250 year period).

    Depending on how they have done the show, it should be a fascinating show and hopefully will spur people to find out their own genealogy and where their ancestors came from.

  • jjab73 Mar 06, 2010

    I am actually really interested and can't wait to see it.Genealogy as a whole fascinates me - celebrity or no.

  • joeca1234 Mar 05, 2010

    Give it a chance! The details these celebrities find out is jaw dropping and emotional. Kim Cattral recently done hers on the Uk version and it was fascinating. Ainsley Harriet is a celebrity chef in the UK. A proud black Englishman, found out his ancestors were in fact slave traders. I hope the american version keeps the same essence of personal history and emotion. Stay away from over load trashy music.

  • Starprincess13 Mar 05, 2010

    I personally don't care about celebrities and their families. The idea of the show just isn't interesting to me at all.

  • mr3bdulla Mar 05, 2010

    LAME!

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