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WDYTYA Season 2 Conference Call with Lisa Kudrow

Who Do You Think You Are?

Once again, as I did during the first season of NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?, I was invited to participate in a media conference call with Lisa Kudrow and the other producers of the show.

One big surprise – and totally unannounced – was the presence of Vanessa Williams on the call! Williams is the subject of the premiere episode of WDYTYA on Friday, February 4, 2011 at 8PM EST/ 7PM CST on NBC.

Although the call started late and lasted less than an hour, I was able to actually speak with both Kudrow and Williams and ask some questions:

  • Living family reunions: I asked Kudrow if we’d be seeing any meetings of celebrities with living relatives that they didn’t know about – similar to today’s announcement by Oprah Winfrey that she had located a half-sister whose existence was unknown to her. Kudrow stated that right now they are still putting some episodes together so she didn’t know if there were in fact any of these types of reunions to be shown.
  • For Williams, I had to ask her what impact or influence the miniseries Roots had on her and her family when it  was broadcast in 1977. She stated that it was a big event for her family, especially since her father was a teacher. It gave him an opportunity to teach his family about their heritage, at least what was known at that time.
  • Finally, I asked a question which seemed to take Kudrow by surprise: how would she, as a producer of the show, get someone to watch an episode of WDYTYA if the person had strong negative feelings about a celebrity? I asked this questions since last season many people told me they wouldn’t watch the Spike Lee episode because they felt he was a “divisive personality.” Many feel the same way about Rosie O’Donnell this coming Season 2. Kudrow said that the episodes are really not about the celebrity per se and their family story and family history is actually very similar to that of many people. The focus is on history and what one’s ancestors went through. She would encourage people to watch every episode and to set aside personal feelings about a particular celebrity.

Other tidbits of information that I was able to gather during the conference call from questions asked by others:

  • Abandoning the search: one person asked Kudrow how many celebrity stories had to be “abandoned” because they either didn’t produce results or the story wasn’t interesting (ouch!). Kudrow wouldn’t give a number but said that the number was much less than what the producers of the BBC show had seen.
  • Williams spoke at length about her Southern ancestors about whom she had no knowledge. She was delighted to discover images of her great-great-great grandfathers David Carl and William Fields and to learn of their service during the Civil War.
  • Kudrow stated that researchers can take anywhere from 6 weeks to many months to track down all the necessary information for an episode of WDYTYA? Williams stated that she was approached in late Spring 2010 and the researchers started by talking with her mother and other relatives first.
  • Williams did mention that she was wearing white gloves while handing original documents at various research locations.
  • When asked what she wanted viewers to get out of her episode, Williams said she wanted everyone to know more about Black history and especially the role of African-Americans in the Civil War.

Overall this was a fun experience and also a chance to see what other media reporters thought of the Who Do You Think You Are? series.  The participants were a mix of print and online media and included Lisa Louise Cooke of Genealogy Gems Podcast as well as Diane Haddad of Family Tree Magazine.

Stay tuned – as they say in television land – for more information about the second series of Who Do You Think You Are?

©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee

7 thoughts on “WDYTYA Season 2 Conference Call with Lisa Kudrow

  1. I have to say the Spike Lee episode is the only one I wanted to skip. I actually found it very interesting and he wasn’t as obnoxious as I thought he would be.

    The one with the most important message I felt was the Emmitt Smith episode. That African children are still being sold into slavery.

  2. My experience with several series of WDYTYA in the UK is that it is a good idea to put away preconceptions about celebrities. They almost always surprise you. Some of the best programmes have been about celebrities I wasn’t keen on (e.g. Jerry Springer) whilst some of my favourite people disappointed me with their attitudes and responses to their unfolding family history.

  3. I loved the Spike Lee episode. He’s a great person.

    As a black person with relatives on one side who resemble Vanessa Williams, I grew up viewing her as a black woman. Some, especially in the online realm, argue that her parents are (were) biracial, and thus she is biracial. I feel like an idiot arguing that she’s black in lieu of that info, until i saw a YouTube video of her self-identifying as black.

    Will this series reveal anything about her multi-generational mixture and racial identification as a result of new findings?

  4. “Kudrow said that the episodes are really not about the celebrity per se and their family story and family history is actually very similar to that of many people. The focus is on history and what one’s ancestors went through.” — While this is a great PR statement, we know that really these shows are about the celebrities. If they weren’t focused on a famous person, how many people would watch?
    I’m surprised Vanessa Williams was wearing white gloves. That is generally now a deprecated practice with documents unless they are in extremely fragile condition, in which case they probably shouldn’t be handled at all.

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