A quick and easy way to silence a table of 20-something creative types performing the sharing-our-intellectual-opinions mating ritual in a chic bar: Start gushing about how your absolute favorite new thing is a public television show called History Detectives, in which four historians use archives, forensics and other sources to solve historical mysteries submitted by viewers across the country. "It's like PBS' Antiques Roadshow meets the History Channel's History's Mysteries, and the theme song is 'Watching the Detectives' by Elvis Costello," you say, crushing the last chance you have for ever being cool. But it's OK, because you know about the Civil War submarine found in a lake in Louisiana, how the board game Monopoly has origins in the economic theories of Henry George and plenty of other trivia about American history revealed through artifacts and heirlooms.
This Monday's episode, "Dueling Pistols/Evelyn Nesbit Portrait/Little Big Horn Bayonet," follows the standard format: three investigations of three objects conducted by one or two of HD's quartet of historians. Some episodes are grouped by a theme such as last week's about the site of what might be the first movie studio, a lighter that suggests a connection between a Hollywood film mogul and a Nazi propaganda studio, and what may be the camera used to film King Kong (catch the repeat at 3 a.m. Saturday...or TiVo it). But if the promise to learn about this week's items (pistols that may have been used in the last American duel; illustrator Howard Chandler Christy; and a bayonet that may have survived the battle of Little Big Horn) isn't enough to make you tune in, then maybe the Texas episode debuting July 26 will be. Dallas takes the spotlight with an inquiry about whether Dallas' downtown railroad station was the first in Texas. The other two explorations take the detectives to San Antonio and Texas City. It will be cool, even if we're not.