For genealogy buffs and those who just can't get enough of celebrities, there's plenty of cause to celebrate in 2012 as there will be four solid months of famous roots on air. Barring any schedule adjustments, the heritage of one to three celebrities will be explored every week from Feb. 3 to May 20.
NBC will launch first with its third season of Who Do You Think You Are? featuring a stellar line up of 12 stars: Jerome Bettis, Paula Deen, Edie Falco, Helen Hunt, Rashida Jones, Rob Lowe, Reba McEntire, Martin Sheen, Jason Sudeikis, Marisa Tomei, Blair Underwood and Rita Wilson. Slotted for 8:00 on Friday nights starting on Feb. 3, this will be the longest season to date.
On Sunday evenings beginning March 25, Henry Louis Gates Jr. returns for his fourth season on PBS with Finding Your Roots. With a format that blends two notables each week and places greater emphasis on genetic discoveries, this series will peek into the past of 20 high profile individuals: Kevin Bacon, Tyra Banks, Cory Booker, Angela Buchdahl, Geoffrey Canada, Margaret Cho, Harry Connick, Jr., Robert Downey, Jr., Sanjay Gupta, Samuel L. Jackson, John Legend, John Lewis, Branford Marsalis, Yasir Qadhi, Condoleezza Rice, Michelle Rodriguez, Kyra Sedgwick, Martha Stewart, Barbara Walters and Rick Warren. And yes, in case you're wondering, Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick are cousins, so the six-degrees phenomenon will definitely be on display.
Having worked on Who Do You Think You Are? as well as three of the PBS series, I thought I would take a moment to address the frequently raised question of which show came first. Who Do You Think You Are? is a British import due to enter its ninth season in the U.K. It first aired in 2004 and had spread to several other countries before finally gaining a foothold in the American market in 2010. Earlier efforts had been made to bring the show to the U.S., but it took the stewardship of Lisa Kudrow and her production partner, Dan Bucatinsky, to make that a reality.
As to the series spearheaded and hosted by Dr. Gates on PBS, they include African American Lives (2006), African American Lives 2 (2008), Faces of America (2010), and now, Finding Your Roots. That's if we exclude 2007's special, Oprah's Roots. Those with especially long memories might also remember two seasons of a genealogy series called Ancestors that ran on PBS in 1997 and 2000, but this show did not involve celebrities.
So which came first? Well, that's subject to interpretation. Who Do You Think You Are? already had a couple of seasons under its belt in the U.K. when African American Lives (AAL) made its debut, but AAL was first in the American market. In my view, 2010 was the watershed year for genealogical programming in the U.S. since it was the first time that both shows aired in the same season -- and all indications are that 2012 will be bigger, badder and better than ever!