Thursday, February 23, 2012

"Who Do You Think You Are?" panel at the Paley Center for Media

I love anything that combines the things that I love, which is part of the appeal of "Who Do You Think You Are?" for me, since I am both a media buff and a genealogy geek, so when I saw on Facebook and on Ancestry.com that the Paley Center for Media (formerly the Museum of Television and Radio) in New York was having a WDYTYA panel discussion last night, I immediately bought a ticket ($20 for nonmembers, but $15 with the Ancestry promo code) - I mean, what is the point of living so close to the city if you don't jump at these opportunities, right?

The event started at 6:30 but I got there 45 minutes early, which netted me a seat right in the center of the second row. The auditorium was not huge by any means but I was literally 15 feet from where the panel members would be sitting. The audience was an interesting mix - many were genealogy enthusiasts who were either hobbyists for themselves or professionals for others; the guy sitting behind me had his own company that helped people scan all their photos, digitize all their home movies, and record interviews with family members. A lot of people were simply fans of the show and a handful, you could tell, were celebrity stalkers. I don't blame them for going to the event even if they don't watch the show - I would've shown up just to see Blair Underwood, too!

So, the panel consisted of moderator Maira Liriano, archivist for The New York Public Library, who did some work for the show; Alex Graham, the creator of the original British series; Josh Hanna from Ancestry.com; Lisa Kudrow, executive producer of the American series and featured during the season; Kim Cattrall, who was featured in the first season; and Blair Underwood, whose episode airs this Friday. Kim, who is a trustee for the Paley Center, gave some opening remarks, then Lisa introduced the Blair Underwood episode, which we got to watch and which, as per usual, made me tear up. I'll remark on that episode after it airs, as I still haven't talked about the Marisa Tomei episode, but we'll get to that in another post.

WDYTYA panel: Josh Hanna, Kim Cattrall, Blair Underwood, Lisa Kudrow, and Alex Graham
Then there was the panel discussion. It was actually quite interesting - Alex Graham talked about how he came up with the concept for the show and how hard it was to not only convince the network that it was worth putting on the air but also convincing celebrities initially to participate, although now the show is so popular, at least in England, that people approach him saying they want to be on the show. He was very entertaining, and his Scottish brogue was awesome. Lisa talked a little about the importance of knowing your family history and passing that on, as well as helping to bring genealogy to the mainstream. Lisa, Kim, and Blair all talked about their particular episodes and how some of what they discovered was painful but how they were all glad they did it. Blair and Lisa also talked a little about the process of the show, which I found very interesting - there's an initial meeting where the celebrity is asked if there's something in particular they're interested in finding out or if there's a family mystery they want to solve, and then the researchers do some digging to see if there's a story to be told. I had wondered what happens if there's not an interesting story to tell and Alex Graham noted that sometimes, they do have a celebrity interested in being on the show but there's just no story to tell in their family history.
Kim Cattrall, Blair Underwood, and Lisa Kudrow

So anyway, the researchers get cracking and they know where the story and episode is headed but the celebrity is kept in the dark so that the viewer really is seeing them make those family discoveries as they are making them. I also liked that Lisa, in response to an audience question, remarked that its an imperfect process, due to money and time constraints. They only have so many researchers on the show and only so much time to film and to air, so they can't trace every line and they can't always be as thorough and sometimes some lines that may be interesting have to be dropped in order to focus on another line. Which of course makes sense - we as genealogists know we spend YEARS researching our family trees and they're still not complete.

Kim and Blair
One thing I will say about the Blair Underwood episode right now, just because Lisa was giving so much acknowledgement to the people who do the actual research on the show, is that while other episodes have glossed over the work and time that goes into finding genealogical information and how its other people, and not the celebrities, who are doing a lot of the grunt work and leg work, this one kept mentioning it, which I liked.

WDYTYA panel discussion at the Paley Center for Media in New York.
And just as a side note, all three celebrities - Lisa, Kim, and Blair - seemed so nice and so down-to-earth, in their interactions with the moderator, with each other, and with the audience, and that was just so cool to see.

Blair Underwood and Lisa Kudrow talk about "Who Do You Think You Are?"
Also, Blair Underwood is as yummy in person as he is on television. I could just eat him up with a spoon.

Just sayin'. :)








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