Lincoln goes geographic

Last night I caught the National Geographic Channel’s “The Real Abraham Lincoln.”  I was sorely disappointed.  It had to be the least informative Lincoln documentary I’ve ever seen, taking a dry and superficial “just the facts” approach that played out like Lincoln’s Greatest Hits.  It breezed through the highlights of his life story with no real insight at all, telling the audience what happened without explaining or illuminating it.

One of the things that irritates me about TV documentaries is their cavalier attitude toward imagery.  They tend to throw up any photo or still shot that suggests something being mentioned in the narration, whether it really belongs there or not.  NatGeo’s Lincoln program was no exception.  When the voice-over related that Lincoln went to Springfield and joined a law firm, we saw a shot of the office building he shared with Herndon, despite the fact that he started this partnership well after he moved to the capital.  Segments on Lincoln’s courtship with Mary Todd and the birth of his children included pictures from his presidency.  And the guy playing Lincoln was an absolute dead ringer—maybe the most convincing I’ve ever seen—but he wore a beard throughout.  These are seemingly minor matters, but they indicate a carelessness with the material that bothers me.

Inexplicably, there were a couple of times when the narrative abandoned Lincoln entirely to discuss the role of railroads in the war and the development of photography.  I think there was more time spent on these topics than on Lincoln’s response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, or on his prosecution of the war in general.  Anyway, if you’re thinking about tuning in when it airs again, you might want to skip it.

On an unrelated note, yesterday was this blog’s heaviest day of traffic ever, by far.  Go figure.


Filed under Abraham Lincoln, Civil War

5 responses to “Lincoln goes geographic

  1. I have pretty much stopped watching documentarys, History Channel, etc for those very reasons. They all seem so catered to people who have never even cracked open a history book! Truth is, they probably really are, which is why those who read history often find them a huge waste of time. At least I do. I think the final straw was when I started “correcting” the documentarys when I watched them with my wife. Ah well.

  2. mlynchhistory

    One of the things that irks me about the History Channel is the scarcity of history-related programs. It’s odd that they changed its name to “History.” Maybe “Channel” would’ve been more appropriate. Thanks for your comment!


  3. Just FYI, this doc was made for a European audience and bought by NG to be re-authored for both a condensed version on Inaugural night, and a fuller version on President’s Day. It was originally called “Lincoln’s Last Night” and focused on the assassination. Most of that, the meat of it, was cut for the NG airing. The issues you brought up were addressed initially by yours truly when I first read the script, but because it was for a Euro audience, they became non-issues.

    from the guy that played Lincoln

  4. mlynchhistory

    Thanks for your comment! I wasn’t aware of the fact that the show was developed to be aired in Europe, or that it originally focused on the assassination. That changes my evaluation quite a bit.

    By the way, as I said in my post, your resemblance to Lincoln is incredible–probably more effective than that of any other Lincoln presenter I’ve seen.


  5. Pingback: A note on NatGeo’s Lincoln « Past in the Present

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