As reality television has risen in popularity, the History Channel has tried to cash in on this now dominant entertainment format. This combination of inexperienced stars, risky locations, and extreme pressure to create ratings-driving drama can come at a price. From the wacky to the downright dangerous, take a look at the craziest scandals that History Channel executives wish viewers would forget.
25. From Hippie to Homicide
The History Channel’s Bamazon bridged the gap between the Deep South and the deep jungle. The show featured eight construction workers from Alabama who travel to the wild jungles of Guyana in the hopes of striking it rich with a discovery of gold, said to be hidden in the thick of the jungle. The show’s first season featured Matthew Clate McDaniel, described as a yoga-loving hippie.
Viewers first saw the long-haired man speaking passionately about the healing properties of nature as he played with his dog. After being fired from the show, McDaniel was arrested in Alabama for the murder of Norman Deon Crayton. Investigators claimed that the one-time reality show contestant shot the man, and then left his body in the woods. Little did viewers know that behind his seemingly gentle demeanor, was a cold-blooded killer.
24. Gangland Reveal
Investigative crime shows typically depend on testimonies from former, or current, criminals to reveal key information to television viewers. Unfortunately, the History Channel’s Gangland got a bit too revealing when one whistleblower’s identity was revealed on air, putting the man in extreme danger. The series, which featured an in-depth look into America’s most violent criminal gangs, often relied on testimonies from former, and current, gang members.
William Austin, a former member of the Southern California white supremacist gang Public Enemy #1, claimed that the History Channel aired his images without his permission. Austin filed a complaint with the network, claiming that his public reveal led to “death threats”, and that he lives in “daily anguish”. Austin, already at risk because of his turn from gang member to government informant, claimed that producers displayed a “conscious disregard” for his safety.
23. A Feud Bigger Than the Hatfields and McCoys
When young actor Tom McKay signed onto the History Channel miniseries Hatfields & McCoys, he had no idea his involvement would put his life in jeopardy. Like many period pieces, many of the show’s scenes involved actors riding horses. An experienced actor, McKay expected the horses to be properly trained and handled. Unfortunately, this was not the case, and he was violently thrown from a horse while filming.
In addition to the horses not being properly trained, McKay alleged that the set, located in Romania, was rife with unsafe conditions. The horse, which bolted and sent the actor straight into a tree, was just one of the horses said to have been violently mistreated by handlers who were improperly trained. The accident left McKay with “serious and permanent injuries”, resulting in him suing the producers for what he alleges was “reckless misconduct and breach of contract”.
22. The Amelia Earhart Photo Conspiracy Theory
Amelia Earhart has continued to captivate the world more than three-quarters of a century after her 1937 disappearance. Seeking to shed new light on the mystery, the History Channel aired the documentary Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence. The show focused on a new piece of evidence: a photo they claimed was taken after her mysterious disappearance. The show also suggested that Earhart and Fred Noonan, her navigator, survived a crash but were captured by the Japanese.
This theory gained traction — until a Japanese military blogger spotted some inaccuracies. Kota Yamano stated that unlike the claims made by the documentary, the photo was taken before the famous pilot took off. The people in the photo simply happened to look like Earhart and Noonan. Facing criticism, the network later pledged that they would continue investigating, and that “historical accuracy is most important to us and our viewers”.
21. The Not Quite Mountain Man
For viewers tuning into the History Channel’s Mountain Men, no other character epitomizes the gritty life quite like Tom Oar. The outdoors man is frequently seen hunting wild animals, skinning their hides, and generally living off the land. But behind the scenes, Oar is more entrepreneurial than Davy Crockett. While he does actually live in Yaak, a rural town in Montana, Oar is actually quite the businessman.
An expert tanner, he has created a successful business specializing in hides, moccasins, and knife sheaths. A secretly entrepreneurial mountain man isn’t the only thing the network isn’t keen to reveal. Oar has admitted that many of the show’s scenes are exaggerated to make his everyday life seem more dangerous than it is. Scenes involving grizzly bears are shot using existing bear footage, and the scenes featuring wolves have been recreated using dogs.
20. Some Secrets Should Be Kept In the Grave
The death of 1930s American gangster John Dillinger has long been shrouded in mystery and conspiracy. Multiple theories arose, including allegations that the man killed by police was not really Dillinger. Reports that the prolific bank robber underwent plastic surgery and fingerprint-removing procedures have only added to the complex case. Recently, new revelations about the criminal’s death have surfaced, prompting his relatives to request that his body be exhumed.
The History Channel, no stranger to covering history’s greatest mysteries, initially agreed to document the exhumation. Then, without explanation, the network decided to back out of the documentary. While some suggest they did not want to get involved in the legal battle between Dillinger’s descendants and the cemetery, others believe that opening the notorious criminal’s grave was just too macabre — even for reality television.
19. From Antiques to Adult Film
Despite appearing in just a few episodes, Olivia Black quickly became a fan favorite on the reality television show Pawn Stars. Fans enjoyed watching the bespectacled brunette interact with co-star Chumlee as the two passed the time during their night shifts. Black’s time with the shop came to an abrupt halt when she was fired in 2012, prompting fans to wonder: what happened?
Fans, and Olivia herself, took to social media demanding answers over her sudden ousting. It soon became obvious that nude photos of the pawnshop employee had surfaced, and network executives decided to end their contract with her. While sad, Black claims that she is still close to the shop’s employees. The one-time pawn star has since returned to being involved in the adult film industry.
18. You Don’t Mess With Texas
Fictionalizing historical events can be difficult as many filmmakers can attest. In the History Channel miniseries Texas Rising, the network realized just how important historical accuracy is to the people of Texas. The 2015 series was said to document the Texas Revolution against Mexico, and the events leading to the creation of the Texas Rangers.
Despite a star-studded cast and stunning cinematography, Texans were not amused. Critics also vocalized their distaste for the series, calling it “tedious and forgettable”. Viewers felt that the storyline suffered from a poorly written script and outdated stereotypes. Jesus de la Teja, a historian at Texas State University, did not appreciate the series “playing fast and loose with the facts”.
17. Hawaiians “Lei” On Their Criticism Towards Offensive Hunting Show
Hawaii has long been seen as a mysterious slice of tropical paradise. The lush jungles and crystal clear water have made the land the perfect backdrop for television and film productions. Taking advantage of the naturally stunning backdrops, and combining local lore, the History Channel debuted the show American Jungle, a reality show centering on warring Hawaiian clans living in the island’s rural landscape.
Hawaiian residents were not impressed by the network’s woefully inaccurate depiction of their culture and history. Not only did the show manage to offend native islanders, it also angered Hawaiian government officials who believed that the reality television show portrayed “local hunters as primitives”. Scenes involving illegal nighttime hunts caused the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources to also get involved, denying the show a permit to shoot on state forest land.
16. Southern Fried Criminals
Capitalizing off the popularity of other shows involving Louisiana and pawnshops, Cajun Pawn Stars debuted in 2012. The show, considered a spin-off to the widely popular Pawn Stars series, soon found itself in a legal mess after allegations were made that the store was hiding stolen goods.
The show centered on the Silver Dollar Pawn & Jewelry Center located in Alexandria, Louisiana. In 2014, the DeRamuses, who owned the shop, filed a lawsuit against the city. They alleged police violated their constitutional rights while investigating reports of stolen items in the pawn store. After a lengthy legal battle, and the stolen items found, the DeRamuses were forced to fork over more than $120,000 in attorney fees and other costs.
15. On-Set Injury Leaves This Reality Star’s Relationship on Thin Ice
As a former cast member of the nail-bitingly tense reality show Ice Road Truckers, Hugh Rowland is well aware of the risks dangerous roads present. What the seasoned driver didn’t expect was that he would be involved in a car accident that would not only affect his trucking career, but also his love life.
Rowland’s injuries were so serious that he filed a lawsuit claiming his producer had been “driving recklessly” when he lost control of the vehicle, crashing into a tree. Not only could he not return to his trucking job, but his injuries apparently have not allowed him to be intimate with his wife. The lawsuit led to his departure from the show, but fans can be sure that their favorite trucker, nicknamed ‘Polar Bear’ will keep on trucking.
14. Pawn Stars Provoke Talent Agency Bidding War
Few people could predict the success of the reality television format. Even fewer people could have predicted the extreme success of a reality television show centering on a pawn shop. For the characters of Pawn Stars, success has been a very welcome surprise. Yet the road to stardom hasn’t been smooth.
In 2007, the stars of the would-be-hit History Channel show signed with Venture IAB agency. But as the show picked up steam, the stars decided to change agencies, sparking a bitter lawsuit. The former agency alleged that new representation UTA had “poached” their clients. Venture IAB claimed that the move resulted in $5 million in “lost commissions and damages”. It has been assumed that the case was settled, outside of the public eye.
13. A Swing and A Lot Of Misses
Following the success of other reality shows based on hazardous occupations, the History Channel’s Ax Men gave viewers a look into the rarely seen world of the logging industry. The show received some unwanted attention when members of a Washington state-based logging company were accused of illegal logging activities.
In 2009, Washington’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) accused cast S&S Aqua Logging of illegally salvaging over two dozen logs, removed from a river without a permit. Government officials became aware of the illegal timber harvest after S&S Aqua Logging appeared on television, brazenly showing off. The DNR argued that the logs not only belong to the public, but were a vital part of the river’s ecosystem.
12. Swamp People Star Really Goes Off-Grid
Most viewers tuning into the History Channel’s hit series Swamp People do so to learn how people live off the grid. One of the show’s breakout stars, however, took his disappearing act a bit too far when he went missing — right before his criminal trial.
Chase Landry was set to appear in court after firing on another boat while hunting for alligators. Landry defended his actions by saying he did so to prevent the oncoming boat from crashing into him. An arrest warrant was issued after the reality star failed to make an appearance. Landry has become less trigger-happy since the event, now working alongside his father in a new swamp. They’re hunting invasive pythons in the Florida Everglades.
11. Jail Puts This Reality Star’s Career on Ice
When Ice Road Truckers star Tim Zickuhr described himself as “kind of an outlaw”, he wasn’t kidding. Zickuhr reportedly kidnapped a Las Vegas prostitute, and held her ransom, demanding $1,000. Somehow, she was able to trick Zickhuhr into letting her phone a friend to help bring the money. That friend happened to be a policeman. Zickuhr was found guilty of extortion, coercion, and kidnapping. Charged with three felonies, it seems his days on the open road are done.
Another Ice Road Trucker who couldn’t stay out of trouble was Arthur Burke. The trucker pleaded guilty to charges of arson after an explosion ripped through his apartment. Burke revealed he had used a highly explosive chemical when trying to create a homemade drug similar to hashish.
10. A Trip to the Mini-Mart Turns into a Bayou Brawl
In 2016, R.J. and Jay Paul Molinere decided to turn a fight in a convenience store into a family affair. The father and son duo were known for their roles on the History Channel reality show Swamp People. According to reports, these two Louisiana natives were arrested on charges of aggravated battery after attacking a man in a mini-mart.
The victim was allegedly beaten by the father and son, and struck with a beer bottle. It was believed that the incident began as an episode of extreme road rage, which escalated when the Molineres followed the man into a convenience store. Following an arrest warrant, the two reality stars surrendered and were later released on bond.
9. Swamp Star Gets Busted For Animal Cruelty
The History Channel reality television show Swamp People is not for the faint of heart. As the show’s name implies, the series focuses on the lives of folks trying to survive in the swamp by any means necessary, often relying on hunting local wildlife. One cast member, however, crossed the line into animal cruelty when he was convicted of 18 wildlife violations.
Roger A. Rivers’ expert gator-hunting skills helped land him a role on the Louisiana-based reality series. This attention came at a price when the cast member was charged with illegally selling a variety of reptiles, hunting without a license, illegally selling animal meat, and other violations. The confiscated animals were released back into the wild, and Rivers was released on bond. Rivers has since returned to his hunting roots saying: “It’s what I love and I will do it ’til I die.”
8. Pawn Shop’s Pricey Meltdown Mistake
One of the most popular items on the reality show Pawn Stars would have to be coins. These can often fetch high prices, sometimes greatly surprising their owners. Considered one of the most durable currencies, coins are often circulated for long periods of time, frequently changing hands.
For coin collector David Walters, his antique collection ended its long life cycle when it was melted down by the show’s pawnshop. The coins, which had been stolen by Walters’ niece, were pawned off to the shop. Valued at $50,000, they were unable to be recovered due to a loophole allowing coins to be disposed at any time. While the shop owners remain uncertain about the coins’ whereabouts, they are certain they’re not as valuable as Walters thought.
7. Facts Take a Big Step Back in Bigfoot “Documentary”
The idea of an apelike wild man stalking the wilderness has existed in a variety of cultures throughout history, so it’s no surprise that this fascination with the forest cryptid would become a part of the reality television landscape. The unexpected backlash behind the History Channel show Bigfoot Captured showed just how seriously people take Sasquatch.
Using handheld cameras, interviews with real professors, and a 3D-printed skeleton, the show attempted to document the capture of a real-life Bigfoot. Despite a disclaimer appearing for a few seconds claiming that the show included “some dramatization”, the show seemed convincingly realistic to most viewers. When it became clear that no creature had actually been captured, fans were furious. Even one of the professors involved in the production was disappointed in the network’s bait-and-switch, distancing himself from the show.
6. Actor Dominic Monaghan Tells Swamp People to Get Lost
One of the History Channel’s most popular reality shows has also been one of its most controversial. A surprising hit, Swamp People showcased the gritty lives of the people that call the Louisiana Bayou home. Despite the show’s popularity, not everyone was impressed with the frequent alligator hunts featured on the show.
Lost actor Dominic Monaghan spoke out against the show, accusing it of demonizing “reptiles as monsters”. He went on to call the show “death entertainment” and that it “glorified” killing animals. Monaghan is a passionate animal lover, hosting his own nature-themed television show on BBC America, Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan. Cast members defended the hunts, claiming their often-violent culls help stabilize alligator populations, and that the meat and hides are their primary sources of income.
5. A Mountain Sized Lie
Mountain Men star Eustace Conway has made a name for himself as a modern-day frontiersman. Unfortunately, his identity soon became wrapped up in a mountain of fibs, which quickly snowballed. In one episode, Conway receives a letter from the government threatening to confiscate his off-the-grid estate, Turtle Island Preserve. Furious at what he, and many viewers, perceive as government encroachment on his self-sufficient lifestyle, Conway vows to fight to protect his rural lifestyle.
The government concern was because his property did not abide by building codes. Structures were built without permits, and many buildings were illegally constructed. Inspectors claimed the violations could be a danger to the many visitors to Conway’s hands-on survival skills camp. Legal woes continued when a visitor to Turtle Island was blinded after a rock-slinging lesson went wrong. Despite his issues, Conway continues to believe in the need to teach others to live on the wild side.
4. Chumlee Isn’t Chummy With The Police
Austin Lee Russell aka “Chumlee” of the History Channel’s Pawn Stars is known for his jovial demeanor, and serves as the show’s comic relief. But behind the laughs, Chumlee was hiding some dark secrets that came to light after Las Vegas police raided his home.
Chumlee’s troubles began when he was accused of assault, which prompted law enforcement to pay a visit to his home. In the house, police found a large cache of narcotics and weapons. Chumlee was charged with two felonies for the firearm and the controlled substances, but avoided jail time thanks to a plea deal. These days, Chumlee has made several positive improvements to his life, including a dramatic weight loss, marriage, and the opening of his own candy store.
3. The Kennedy Drama That Simply Disappeared
Starring some of Hollywood’s biggest names, and developed by one of the co-creators of the crime action series 24, The Kennedys seemed poised for television success. Yet, in a strange turn of events, the eight-part miniseries was mysteriously scrapped, leaving fans bewildered. In an unprecedented move, the network decided to not air the expensive production after concluding it was “not a fit” for the History Channel brand.
Theories abounded over the show’s sudden cancellation, with some suggesting that Kennedy family members pressured network executives to make the show disappear. While the show eventually did air in other countries, critics were quick to criticize the series, with one outlet calling it “truly, mind-bogglingly tedious television”. While audiences will never know the truth behind the show’s vanishing act, it seems they weren’t missing much.
2. An Editing Mistake Spells Trouble For Descendant Of War Criminal
Hunting Hitler was an eight-part History Channel series that focused on proving the theory that the infamous Nazi leader did not commit suicide as historians claim, but that he escaped Germany and fled to Argentina. Using archival footage, cutting-edge technology, and interviews with historians and other experts, the show quickly became a network favorite.
One episode, however, made headlines when it accidentally revealed the identity of an “anonymous informant”, and grandson of a Nazi. The man had only agreed to appear on the show under the condition his face would be pixelated. Unfortunately, an editing mistake left the man’s face visible long enough that viewers were able to take screenshots, which were promptly shared on social media.
1. That JFK Conspiracy Theory-Laden Doc
Few public figures have inspired as many conspiracy theories as President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy’s untimely, and violent, death has been the center of countless theories that have continued to this day. One theory, which seemed to implicate President Lyndon B. Johnson as being part of Kennedy’s assassination plot, gained attention when it was featured on the History Channel’s documentary, The Guilty Men.
Naturally, the theory caused an uproar in the political and historical community. The network was criticized for airing what they admitted “fell short of the high standards that the network sets for itself”, and apologized to Johnson’s family. In addition to apologizing, the network later aired a program called The Guilty Man: A Historical Review, which consisted of a round-table discussion led by three historians.
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