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TV Critics Tour: ‘Sandhogs,’ ‘Truckers’ Are Real History

Beverly Hills, Calif. – History once again defended its programming, shows ranging from a new series on Sandhogs to Ice Road Truckers, as being on target for the network and its brand.

At the Television Critics Association tour Wednesday, History senior vice president of development and programming David McKillop was questioned by a writer about a show the network was doing a panel on, Sandhogs, who are the urban miners who work underground to build tunnels beneath New York City.

 The series debuts in September, and there were three actual “sandhogs” participating in the session. In fact, one of the show’s executive producers, Eddie Rosenstein, actually became a sandhog in order to gain access and to the series.

History is among a number of formerly narrowly targeted cable networks that have broadened their programming to draw larger audiences. That strategy has yielded some high-rated hits for History, such as Ice Road Truckers. But some TV critics have questioned that approach, and the issue surfaced Wednesday at the Sandhogs panel.

“Obviously this is a compelling show with interesting people, but what does this have to do with history?” one writer asked, also citing Ice Road Truckers.

In response, McKillop said that one of the oldest battles in history is man against nature. In the case of Truckers, he said that the men that drive the trucks over frozen roads in Canada are traveling over pathways that people have used for several 1,000 years to do business.

 McKillop also pointed out that sandhogs have a 150-year history, and they are part of a dangerous profession that loses on average one man for every mile of tunnel constructed.

“I think all of our shows have a deep root in history,” McKillop said. “It’s being told in the present, and I think that’s what makes the show so compelling, to see living sandhogs here….It’s not about the past in a literal sense, because these guys are living flesh right here. But it’s the tradition they come from is deeply rooted in the past.”

Sandhogs are now working on New York’s third water tunnel, which when it is completed will be he largest public works project every undertaken in U.S. history, according to McKillop.

During its TCA presentation, History also did a panel on a more traditional topic, a two-hour special called Einstein that will air in the fourth quarter.  

But at the close of the network’s presentation, McKillop again tried to drive home the network’s strategy and broadened definition of history.  

“We understand that history is more than just facts and dates,” McKillop told the assembled writers.

“History is experience, the choices people make when facing the same dilemmas that we face today,” he said. “That’s the beauty of history, that’s what drives our viewers to us, so if we leave you with one thing today, it’s that we’ll continue to tell the stories that define history, making history more active, more entertaining, accessible to our audiences worldwide.”

 For more coverage of TCA's summer press tour, click here.