'Hatfields and McCoys': Is History Channel miniseries fact or fiction?
The family feud between the Hatfields and McCoys is brought to life in a new History Channel series. But history and folk legend blur as the show follows the lead of cable TV's more mature fare.
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Many participants in this story lived in isolated areas where it would be difficult to trace events accurately, he says. This was not helped by the yellow journalism of the time. If the sketchy events emerging from news accounts as the bodies piled up were not sensational enough, he adds, “newspapers of the day often had no problem with simply making things up.”Skip to next paragraph
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Nonetheless, the show's producers were at pains to point out in press materials that while not actually filmed in Appalachia – the incentives are better in Romania, where it was shot – the miniseries “tries to capture accurately details of the family fight that eventually involved the US Supreme Court, made international headlines, and nearly pushed Kentucky and West Virginia to the brink of war.”
Historians and educators were also brought in to vet the story, according to the show's producers, though writers “took such traditional liberties as compressing characters and the timing of events.”
How far is too far often depends on whose views are offended, says Bob Thompson, founder of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University in New York. He points to the ruckus raised over recent programs such as “Game Change,” about the 2008 election, noting that criticism often had as much to do with politics as history. Beyond that, “drama has no obligation to be historically accurate,” he says with a laugh, pointing to such august precedents as Shakespeare’s history plays.
But, notes McMullen, the miniseries also raises larger questions for the History Channel itself. Does the show do justice to its historical claims, he says, “or is it simply content to entertain its viewers?” he asks. With other cable television shows such as “Game of Thrones” and “True Blood” pushing the envelope in terms of sex and blood, he says, “it appears that the History Channel is simply following suit.”
The question is, he says, “whether or not the History Channel has a different mission than an HBO or Showtime.” As the Hatfields and McCoys slug it out on the station, “perhaps the History Channel needs to have some of its own internal feuding over its identity.”
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