Titanic's Achilles Heel History Channel

  • Thread starter Parks Stephenson
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I've now heard twice how superior English documentaries are over American. This, I believe is a generalisation that does the argument no good. Certainly, some documentaries are better than others, but dividing quality along nationalistic lines is jingoism, pure and simple.

Why do I say this? Because I have worked for production companies on both side of the Atlantic. Frankly, the least informative documentary that I have ever advised on was made by a major UK production company. I was also not impressed by the recent "Building the Titanic" programme, the one that kept referring to the panelling in the Swan Hotel as being from Olympic's dining room. That programme seemed to follow the same formula that I laid out in my lengthy post above, despite the fact that it was made entirely in the UK, for UK audiences.

I also just this past week happened to read a legal ruling by the British Broadcasting Standards Commission against BBC Horizon for their biased reporting methods.

During lunch today, I sat through a few minutes of Ken Burns's "The War" documentary. From what little I saw, it looked pretty good.

I offer these examples only as counterpoint to a generalisation made in this thread. I don't see the nationality of a production company as a factor in the quality of a product. Both the USA and UK -- along with any number of other countries -- have the ability to produce both good and bad documentaries. I will concede one advantage that the UK has over the USA...USA broadcasts require more time be given over to commercials. When editing a programme originally intended for UK audiences for a USA audience, much programme time (and possibly substance) has to be cut to fit the same time slot.

So what keeps companies from producing bad shows? The market. If the show does not bring in the audience, then the show will die and the responsible production company will have a harder time with their next pitch to the networks. Evidently, these Titanic shows are finding some response from the audience, because they continue to get green-lighted.

Now, for a perplexing anomaly: The Discovery Channel really botched the broadcast edit of Cameron's "Last Mysteries of the Titanic." Cameron took control of the show and edited it to his liking. The resulting edit had more footage from inside the wreck than was originally shown on TV. In addition, more attention was paid to the meaning of what he found inside the wreck. Overall, Cameron's edit was so far superior to that shown on TV that it was almost an entirely new programme. Discovery Channel promptly shelved the edit after they received it from Earthship Productions. They provided a cut-down version of Cameron's edit for consideration in the Emmy Awards, but even that has never been publicly broadcast. For whatever reason, the Discovery Channel does not see worth in airing what in my opinion is a really informative documentary. Go figure.

Hi Parks, I agree with your comments about generalizing quality between UK and USA documentaries.

That said, I find the UK Discovery Channel version of Last Mysteries of the Titanic on DVD to be far superior to the USA Emmy Award version. If I'm not mistaken, the Emmy version was supposed to be better than what was actually broadcast on TV here in the USA. I never was able to see the TV broadcast, but I do have both the Emmy and UK versions on DVD, and find the UK version to be a much better and more informative production.

I concur with you on that assessment. Except for the fact that my name is misspelled in the UK version, that is the best edit available to date. The "UK version" was not actually made in the UK, but rather by Earthship Productions, Cameron's documentary production house in Malibu, California. The Emmy version is a watered-down edit (made by Discovery without Cameron's knowledge) of Cameron's approved edit.

Having seen all three versions, I maintain that Cameron's approved edit (the one that has not been made public by Discovery) is the best of them all. I am very frustrated that for whatever reason, that version is gathering dust in some vault.

I was just leafing through a catalogue of pop culture items and came across a pop-up book about Titanic. When you open the book, a four-section 3D model of the ship jumps up at you. Somehow, the frivolity of the novelty item seemed very much at odds with the reality of the disaster.

This item evidently sells. There is a market for it. Probably the same market that makes the average Titanic documentary a success. There's a fact therein that is hard for the historian to accept...Titanic has forever and irreversably passed from history into entertainment. Those 1500 souls died ultimately for our entertainment.

Isn't looking at what's the most popular threads and discussed here on the worlds most popular Titanic website a window into what people would like to seen in a documentary ?
"Titanic has forever and irreversibly passed from history into entertainment." That's about the truth Parks.
It really started when you could win a dive to the wreck - and when they allowed a couple to get married on it.
It sunk even lower when you could buy Titanic toilet paper and bath salts.
It might be regulated how and when expeditions can dive to Titanic, but how they make a program about it isn't.
Can you imagine what would happen if they found Noah’s Ark.

I have what I think is the same item that you describe -- I bought it thinking more of its display potential for talks and presentations.

Your point is very true -- we have commercialized the Titanic disaster and its victims, not just with pop-up books, but also with too many of the cheap docu-dramas that network television churns out ... the one and the same that make serious documentaries get somewhat lost in the shuffle and diluted by the spam.

And you are right -- in too many ways, those 1500 did die for our entertainment.
Isn't looking at what's the most popular threads and discussed here on the worlds most popular Titanic website a window into what people would like to seen in a documentary ?


I would argue that if you took the combined membership of E-T, TRMA, Titanic-Titanic, and TRG (which is not open to the public), that would still total to a minority percentage of the audience that the TV networks are trying to reach.

Then factor into that the fact that we members rarely agree on anything. To an outsider looking in, we Titanic enthusiasts are a constantly bickering lot...it would seem to that outsider that we can never agree on anything. Select the last posts in this forum over the past 24 hours and see what a documentarian could put together. The two most attended threads during that time period (as of this writing) are about the Jazz Age and an imaginary prequel to Cameron's Titanic...a discussion about the actual disaster is in the definite minority. A similar snapshop taken last week would yield an even more confusing result. If I were an outsider, I don't know if I would find much substance in these forums (remember, an outsider will only take a snapshot...they don't have the time to live in the forums and get a sense of the day-by-day flow of the conversation).

I'm sorry, but we do it to ourselves. Maybe one day when we can speak with one voice, we can catch the attention of the networks with our minority opinion.

Please understand that I am not defending this position...it is only my observation of how the system works.

>>Oh really? Ever heard of Time Team, Horizon, the BBC or Channel 4 or David Attenborough? In Britain we are not scared of making high quality and informative documentaries that are frequently sold around the world for a massive amount of money.<<

Ever hear of the United States?

The audiances on my side of the pond tend to be a bit different then the ones on yours, as well as the market realities. Don't confuse British sensibilities for being identical to those in the USA. There are similiarities, but there are also some signifigant differences. It's the differences that are being played to in order to get the ratings up.

If a given show get's poor ratings, then as Parks indicated, that makes it very difficult to get the go ahead for another project.
>>>Are you the same Jonathan who posts by only that first name in the TRMA forum? If so, I would ask you to provide more detail in your criticism of the programme than what you wrote there. I will do my best to respond to your concerns if you will give me something more substantiative than, "...what a joke."<<<

Hi Parks

Sorry that I didn't get back to you sooner as I have only just found your question. My comment over on the TRMA board was with referance to the editing of the show. Maybe I should have made my point a lot more clearer, but this is the only time I have been asked about my comment and my post was over on that particular board and not here.

As I see it, a find that could have easily been used within the show for a few minutes was dragged over almost 2 hours; hence my "joke" referance. This is typical of many shows on many subjects for doing this kind of "we'll keep them glued for as long as we want them".

If anyone see's it as a "pop" at the show it was really at the way it was edited. I'm sure that a 60 minute show would have been far more suited than what was finally released.
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Hi all,

I know I'm late chiming in but at the time of the airing of this doc I was having trouble logging in, password issues, blah blah.

But it's so great to see there are still shows on the Titanic that are fresh. Just when you think know or you've seen it all something new pops up.

This was another great one to me.

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