In the U.S. version of the show, which will take place in Austin, Texas; Nashville, Tenn.; Detroit; and San Francisco, Americans can trace their past based on things like a family story or heirloom.
Philip McGovern, above with wife and partner Jane Kelly, of Irish production company Big Mountain called the show “part detective story, part emotional journey, combining history and science to uncover fascinating stories of diverse Americans.”
As Kelly, who is Big Mountain’s creative director, put it: “ ‘Genealogy Roadshow’ is an original format where our expert team of genealogists investigate people’s stories and present their amazing results in front of a live roadshow audience.”
“This is about regular Americans who want to find out their past,” McGovern said. “We are tapping in to this trend where people like you and me try to find out their past.”
“Genealogy Roadshow” started off as a one-off documentary for BBC in Ireland about Ulster Scots and their connection to U.S. presidents. It did so well that Big Mountain expanded it to a format that Irish pubcaster RTE backed into the series. The show is now in it’s second season there. “We’ve always had an eye to internationalize this connection,” McGovern said.
The pair reached PBS in a circuitous route. The company worked with Krasnow Prods. on the U.S. adaptation and met producer Stuart Krasnow via Pat Quinn whose Quinn Media Management works on both sides of the Atlantic with the Resource Center, helping smooth the way to reach U.S. networks and studios.
“I target which companies would work,” said Quinn. “It was a meeting of the minds with Stuart Krasnow. We recut the sizzle reel, Philip did a lot of work, to see which would appeal to Americans.”
Beth Hoppe, PBS chief programming exec and g.m., general audience programming, says that when she first heard the pitch from Krasnow, “I thought the idea was perfect for PBS, such a great way to explore your roots. We have a history with finding your roots, with shows like ‘Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates.’ You don’t have to be famous to be remarkable. I saw the Irish version, and thought it was terrific.”
Quinn said, “Ireland is small but has a long, long rich history. Here in L.A., everyone’s been in L.A. one generation. Nashville, Detroit, San Francisco, Austin will have diverse histories.”
While no host has yet been selected for the U.S. adaptation, PBS has found sites with rich local history to host each segment. None of the participants was willing to divulge budgets for the show, but Hoppe said, “it’s in the mid-range of what PBS normally does.”
“We are starting with four and if they are as successful as we hope they’ll be, we’ll get more,” she said.