Each episode of 10 Things You Don’t Know About focuses on a different historical figure. Different episodes feature such dynamically different people as Benjamin Franklin, Caligula, JFK, and Adolf Hitler. Hosted by historian David Eisenbach, the series strives to teach its audience ten little-known facts about each of these figures. Mostly, this is very successful, and the series manages to hold our attention, but it’s definitely true that episodes about figures you’re already somewhat familiar with will be more interesting to you than episodes about people you know nothing about.
Each episode follows the exact same structure. First, we see Eisenbach on the street, asking seemingly random pedestrians if they knew that Hitler discovered the swastika symbol in a church, or if they knew that Benjamin Franklin wasn’t actually the one holding the kite string that one fateful night. The people being interviewed always tell him they had no idea. Then, we get a brief history lesson about the fact we’ve just learned and how the events of the subject’s life contributed to this more improbably reality. Then, we see a couple of brief interviews with other historians to support the fact, and finally we see what percentage of the History Channel’s national poll takers didn’t know this fact. The percentage of people who did know can be as high as 49%, but on average, that number was more like 20%, with a vast majority of test takers completely unaware that, for example, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon were very close friends before becoming political opponents.
Being only a half hour show, and deducting about 8 minutes for commercials, we’re left with only a couple of minutes to touch on each fact. This is good in that it keeps the pacing of each episode up and helps hold our interest by constantly moving on to new things, but we also can’t help but feel we’re only getting a quick snapshot of history with a lot of context and other important information being left out for time. That being said, I believe each episode could have benefitted from being an hour long; allowing Eisenbach to go into more detail about these people and these facts about their lives. I doubt the trade off in pacing would have been significant considering Eisenbach is a fairly charismatic guy who seems to legitimately love talking about history. These qualities in a host would be enough to keep my attention for a longer period of time.
The series uses several documentary tools to tell its narratives. Mostly, we see the host talking to the camera like an energetic professor in front of a class, but the series also uses historical reenactments, photographs, old movie clips, and even animated segments to help tell the stories of these historical figures. It’s technically very good, albeit standard, but my biggest small criticism of the show is that the music is way too loud. In many cases the audience finds itself straining to hear what the people on screen are saying because the music is so overpowering.
Overall, this is a really interesting series. The episodes about Adolf Hitler and Abraham Lincoln are definitely among the most interesting here, but most of the episodes have enough going for them to make them worth checking out. Special Features include some additional footage, and Spanish subtitles.
Available on DVD from Cinedigm on August 28.