On Travel Channel’s “Time Traveling With Brian Unger,” no one is jumping into a DeLorean or a TARDIS phone booth to visit another era, but there is plenty of the past to relive.
Indeed, in the half-hour unscripted series that premieres Monday (April 20), the actor, comedian and commentator heads to cities across the U.S. to tour well-known landmarks and give a group of locals — as well as viewers — a lesson on how they came to be.
The stories can be obscure and surprising but always interesting, and the folks who come along for Unger’s presentations seem enthralled — which of course thrills Unger, a self-described history buff.
“We’re really just trying to engage viewers and really take history out of the sort of academic subject and turn it into something real to them,” Unger tells Zap2it. “[We’re trying] to humanize it, and make that connection because when people connect to history that’s when it stops being just a subject and it becomes something more, much more resonant.”
The premiere episode goes to San Francisco to hear the story of the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, then to New York to learn about the Woolworth Building’s role in the development of the first atomic bomb, which is where the nickname “the Manhattan Project” originated.
“A lot of people aren’t aware of that, and I think they’d be surprised that our federal government probably had offices for all kinds of stuff all over the country,” Unger says with a sly laugh. “But yeah, there was an office there for the procurement and enrichment of uranium, kind of an administrative personnel office run out of the Woolworth Building, and perhaps it shows that cozy relationship between government, military and corporate bigwigs. … I think you could draw a line from past events to current ones.”
Ensuing episodes look at the real location of the O.K. Corral, the early days of Las Vegas and the search for long-lost filming locations of Charlie Chaplin during the silent movie era.
“There is something about the weight of history in certain places that is the closest thing I think we’ll ever get to the paranormal …,” Unger says. “To me, it’s as close as I’ll ever get to history and making that come alive. And I’m not a very superstitious person at all, but in these places where we go, since we get to pull back the curtain and go backstage, you feel and hear these ghosts of history. And for some people that’s really fun and funny, and for others it’s very emotional.”