Smithsonian Networks, the much-criticized Smithsonian/Showtime venture, has released a list of its initial line-up of shows, which begin in the spring. “Stories from the Vaults,” hosted by Tom Cavanagh (star of the NBC show “Ed”) will go behind the scenes at the Smithsonian to examine artifacts not on display, and interview curators at the museum. The lineup also includes “Cutting Loose,” a documentary on Mardi Gras, and “American Treasures,” a show that looks at 150 objects from the National Museum of American History. To see the whole list of shows, see the Showtime press release.
In March of last year, Showtime and Smithsonian announced the creation of Smithsonian Networks to the alarm of filmmakers, historians, and others who depend on access to Smithsonian collections. The secrecy and limits of the contract produced widespread opposition from the history profession. In May, Bruce Craig wrote the article, “Historians Raise Concerns about Smithsonian’s Deal with Showtime.” Also in that month, then president Linda Kerber wrote a letter to Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small to express the AHA’s concerns about the project, but his reply only offered “a perplexing array of contradictions.” The Society of American Historians passed a resolution echoing the AHA’s concerns.
In December of 2006, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) looked into the deal, and while they expressed many of the same concerns the AHA brought up, the deal went through, and the shows mentioned above will premiere this spring.