The History Channel used to be a respected network of airing well-done, historically accurate documentaries. Then the channel moved over to an inordinate amount of WWII focused programs. It didn’t take long for the History Channel to get the nickname "The Hitler Channel."
The reality show boom in the mid-2000s saw the onslaught of staged scenes, somewhat scripted programs, and forced drama. It was hard to tell in those early shows, but as time went on and more people spoke out behind-the-scenes, viewers understood to take what they saw with a grain of salt. However, people couldn’t get enough of the drama, no matter how ridiculous, and the over-the-top reality stars.
In an effort not to be left behind in ratings and viewership, The History Channel slowly started adding reality shows similar to those on Bravo and TLC. Fans of the channel criticized the network for moving away from actual historical content. But television is a business, and we can’t fault the History Channel for making movies to obtain and keep viewers. We can fault the channel, however, for not realizing that the actual history programs are what truly made the channel's name.
The percentage of real to fake shows appears to be dwindling each year across networks. Fake shows are getting easier to spot and actual “reality” shows are vanishing, especially on The History Channel.
Here are the 9 Fakest History Channel Reality Shows (And 6 That Are Totally Real)
15 15. Fake - Mountain Men
Mountain Men is a reality show that focuses on a variety of men in different locations surviving the wilderness in their respective locations. From North Carolina to Alaska, you’ll meet men who teach survival, fly planes, and trap fur. While the actual men and their jobs are real, most of the show tends to be fake. For example, many of the scenes where the men were in extreme danger are staged. Most of what the men do in Mountain Men is boring, so the producers have to get viewers excited.
One of the stars, Tom Oar said once, “They always have to make it seem more dangerous. I’m too boring otherwise.” When it came to shooting scenes with bears, Oar said they were never around on his property when they needed them, so he and crew went elsewhere.
14 Fake - Bigfoot Captured
Bigfoot Captured is clearly a show meant for entertainment. This fake documentary follows in the footsteps of two other shows that attempted to find mermaids and the megalodon. The Bigfoot show used actors as “researchers” scrounging for evidence.
There was one famous scientist involved in the show who is a Bigfoot advocate, Dr. Jeff Meldrum. But he even had to take to Twitter to head off fans who thought the show was real. He said he had nothing to do with the overall plot or creative content. From watching the teaser of Bigfoot Captured, he “got an inkling that there was some dramatic liberty taken creating a what-if scenario.” He added that the drone scene did catch a bi-ped on video: one of the production assistants.
13 Real - Ice Road Truckers
The History Channel’s Ice Road Truckers follows the lives of semi drivers in the extreme conditions of remote lands in Canada and Alaska. The only part of the show that can be deemed as “fake” - more as an embellishment really - is the exaggeration of personalities.
One star, Rick Yemm, said in an interview that “they take small parts of our personality… I’m brash, I’m not always the most politically correct person… That’s a small part of me they exploit.”
Otherwise, the weather conditions you see, the accidents that occur, and the work the drivers do is all real. Crew members have gotten hurt and truckers’ lives away from the show have affected life on the show (especially when one cast member was arrested for kidnapping and extortion.)
12 Fake - American Pickers
Now in its 18th season, American Pickers follows two men as they travel the United States to buy items from people’s collections. The items are typically antiques or collectibles the hosts - Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz - plan to resell at their shops. Even though the show is mostly fake, it doesn’t stop American Pickers from entertaining millions of fans per episode, making this one of History Channel’s popular TV shows.
But the show manufactures much of what you see. It’s been proved that Danielle - ostensibly the office manager - is actually an actor who was a burlesque performer and roller derby athlete. Also, the shots of Frank and Mike driving are staged and the dialog recorded on a set. Even some participants have mentioned the “picks” are handled before Mike and Frank get there.
11 Fake - Ancient Aliens
One of the most criticized shows on the History Channel, Ancient Aliens discusses how aliens have shaped Earth’s history going back millennia. This reality show is obviously fake for many reasons.
Ancient Aliens uses “self-appointed” challengers to real science to spout their nonsense views on how aliens eradicated dinosaurs. It should come as no surprise these same people provided no evidence to their claims. One writer for the Smithsonian magazine called the show’s presentation a Gish Gallop, when you’re presented with so much information quickly, including falsehoods and misinterpretations, you have no time to debate any assertions.
The show rarely uses real scientists, and when it does, their statements are chopped into sound bites taken out of context. Plus, the show has conflicting ideas on what it even believes. Many feel the History Channel should clarify Ancient Aliens is merely discussing alternative ideas and not to be taken seriously.
10 Real(ish) - Swamp People
Some people disagree with the theme of Swamp People - hunting and selling alligators for their skins - but the show is mostly real. The main complaint of the show is the people who are portrayed in the show don’t really live that way. Relatives of two Native American men on Swamp People, R.J. and J. Paul Molinere, have said they are not as spiritual as they are on the show and don’t use candles to protect themselves from evil spirits.
However, even before the show came along, some of the participants made their money by alligator hunting. It’s depicted as dangerous, and it is in real life, but the guys on the show have years of experience so they know how to be safe. There are elements of Swamp People manufactured for safety and edited for drama, but what the men do for a living on the show is real.
9 Fake - Pawn Stars
There’s no denying the popularity of the Las Vegas-based show that follows the daily lives of those working at the World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn shop, but just watching an episode or two of Pawn Stars will fill you with great skepticism.
Any deals you see are organized beforehand. Participants have already signed a release allowing the show to use their face and voice. Also, the item they wish to sell has been examined and cleaned up.
Pawn Stars is a TV business. The souvenir shop is hidden by use of clever camera angles. The store makes a killing selling their brand on T-shirts and other merchandise. If you make a visit and plan on seeing the stars, you’ll be disappointed: they are only working the counter when shooting.
8 Real - Counting Cars
Another show on the History Channel that may surprise you as real is Counting Cars. Danny Koker, who appeared as expert on occasion for Pawn Stars, owns and operates Count’s Kustoms. The show focuses on the daily business as Koker and staff restore and modify cars and motorcycles.
Whether by coincidence or design, Counting Cars resembles the Pawn Stars’s spinoff, American Restoration. Even down to the format.
Various friends and fans who’ve met Koker say the owner is the “real deal.” Koker is a down-to-earth, self-taught mechanic who credits his dad for imparting his car knowledge. Koker’s shop manager for Counting Cars, goes on to say, “When you fake stuff you can tell and they do it to save money, but we spare no expense. Just to let you know, that man right there makes sure they keep it real.”
7 Fake - Alone
Alone pits the wilderness against people who must survive as long as they can. It’s basically a Last Man Standing game where the person who withstands nature the longest wins a cash prize.
A keen viewer of Alone noticed in season 2 that things didn’t add up, pointing the show towards being completely or somewhat staged. Jose Martinez was favored to win the entire competition, but he tapped out in third place. This tap-out appeared incomprehensible. The canoe he’s using tips; suddenly he’s standing in about 4 feet of water, which was noted as very cold. He goes from talking about winning to using the emergency phone to be rescued seconds later. As the emergency crew reaches him (which they do very quickly), he’s still standing in the water feet from shore.
A released bonus video helped prove the viewer’s theory as well as showing suspicious edits and camera angles.
6 Real - Forged in Fire
When Forged in Fire was first conceived, it was proposed the contestants would compete to make kitchen cutlery, but producers felt that was too boring and decided on weapons. If you’re looking for a History Channel reality show that is real, then check out Forged in Fire.
None of the participants are true forging and weapons experts. One of the contestants, Ryu Lim, is a full-time blacksmith and makes weapons that are functional, but also works of art. The contestants' language is real and sometimes flawed, but everything they make is done by their hands.
The judges are experts in their own fields, and they use their experience in weaponry to criticize the manufactured weapons. One is a former Army Ranger and another is a edged blade close combat expert. Another judge even designed one of the deadliest combat knives on the planet.
5 Fake - Hunting Hitler
One show inherently helps with determining if it’s real or fake, because the answer is in the title. Faking Hitler entertains the idea that Hitler faked his own death at the end of World War II and was whisked away to South America.
The production company, Karga 7, has also done shows like Jesus Conspiracies and Booze Travelers, but made it clear “not to get into conspiracy theories” in the Hitler program. The most real factor in the show was the “very real concern of U.S. intelligence interests that… Hitler had orchestrated an escape from Berlin.”
Most of the “evidence” presented is from unique technology that goes back over the declassified documents. For instance, “Hitler spotting” for 100 days after Hitler’s death showed a path straight to Argentina, which constituted Hunting Hitler’s first lead.
4 Real - The Ancient Series (Discoveries, Mysteries, Behaving Badly)
The Ancient Series - Discoveries, Mysteries, and Behaving Badly - are shows based on documented facts. They are perhaps the most real shows on this list, though Ancients Behaving Badly takes a more tongue-in-cheek approach to its presentation. But it’s still real.
Discoveries chronicles how modern technology is based on ancient inventions. The show uses accredited archaeologists, forensics, computer regeneration, and performs experiments to make the connections.
Mysteries hearkens back to the 70’s show In Search Of… The show investigates unexplained mysteries in civilization, including legends and real events like Pompeii. They use documents, witness accounts, and other research.
Ancients Behaving Badly focuses on individual historical figures and rates their pathology based on their behavior. The show uses animated sequences, but also interviews historians and conducts forensic investigations to formulate conclusions.
3 Fake - American Restoration
American Restoration is a spinoff of Pawn Stars. Rick Dale, who’s appeared in several episodes of Pawn Stars as an expert, runs Rick’s Restoration. They restore antique items back to their original condition. The show already had skeptics since it was related to Pawn Stars.
The shop is more than a shop: it looks to have been rebuilt to take advantage of the show. You can also take 2 different tours. The “Lite” tour offers a 10-15 minute guided tour with a “very slim” chance to see someone from the show. The “Boneyard Tour” gives tourists a “very good” chance to see someone famous.
Dale also set up a new location based on the popularity of American Restoration, then stopped doing the show because it “disrupted his restoration business.” It was also reported Dale had been speaking another production company to do a similar reality show.
2 Real - Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy
In the travel documentary Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy, Larry journeys around the United States immersing himself in various jobs, hobbies, and lifestyles.
Larry the Cable Guy wanted to show people that there is hope in the world. He said the reason he doesn’t watch the news anymore is because “[the news] only covers that 1 percent of the population that are dirtbags.”
The segments were all real. In one, Larry thought he might die when he was fetching clams and oysters. He sunk to his chest in mud. Then the guide who came over to help got stuck. It took him 45 minutes to get out; the director had to cancel filming. Most of the segments show just Larry doing jobs, but fans have said the show is one of more interesting and fun ones The History Channel has.
1 Fake(ish) - The Curse of Oak Island
The Curse of Oak Island constitutes a show that is based on real events and accounts, but fabricated with inconsistent stories and long, drawn-out drama.
The basic premise is that Oak Island contains treasure. For over 221 years, many treasure-seekers have tried to get the island to cough up its treasure to no avail. In 2006, brothers Rick and Marty bought a stake in the island and started excavating.
The curse is a legend that says seven people must die before the island will release its treasure. Skeptics have stated that many more than seven have died in the island’s history. Also, with the amount of treasure thought to be buried, someone should have found something by now. One of the brothers, Rick, has said, “There’s a story that I want to figure out, and I think that’s the real treasure.”
What History Channel shows do you feel are real or fake? Let us know in the comments!