“Hatfields & McCoys” and the Validity of Historical Drama

Oscar-winner Kevin Costner as “Devil Anse” Hatfield in the History Channel miniseries “Hatfields & McCoys.”

If Hollywood and major networks need any validation that historical dramas can be done and done right, they should look no further than the History Channel miniseries Hatfields & McCoys. Now, while I cannot be a hundred percent certain that everything presented in the series is historical fact, the one thing the producers pulled off successfully was in creating a very authentic feel in their depiction of 19th Century Appalachia. The writing, performances, cinematography, and music were all top-notch, and History pulled out all the stops to let people know that this was a program worth watching.

And all that hard work has paid off in a big way. Part One, which aired this past Monday, was viewed by a record-setting 13.9 million people, beating such shows as “America’s Got Talent” and “The Bachelorette” in the ratings for that night. Part Two aired Tuesday night, and was seen by 13.1 million viewers, proving the series was not a one-hit wonder. And Part Three, which aired last night, was viewed by 14.3 million viewers, cementing the series as a complete success. History’s decision to venture into scripted drama has proven to be a good one, with critics and audiences praising the show for its dramatic look at this infamous feud.

Now, what does this all have to do with To Appomattox? Well, it definitely helps the series, and other historical projects, in a tremendous way. These numbers show that there is an audience out there for historical drama. If a series is given a chance, and put in the right hands in terms of actors, producers, directors, etc., then networks and film studios have a major chance to present actual stories from our history in exciting and authentic ways. This also shows that there is no need for a great deal of poetic or artistic license. The real stories are dramatic enough, and if done correctly, can be as powerful and emotional as any fictional tale that can be told.

In closing, History has proven with Hatfields & McCoys that real-life stories can be told in a very dramatic and authentic way, and that there is an audience out there for these type of programs. It is my hope that the major movie studios and networks will look at the success of this miniseries, and begin to look at ways to tell these stories without overdoing it on artistic license. And when To Appomattox airs next year, it will prove that their are more factual stories from our nation’s history to be told, and can be done in entertaining and thought-provoking ways.

About Steven Hancock

I am an avid student of American and World History, with a particular interest in the American Civil War. I am currently a student at American Public University, working toward a Master's Degree in United States History. I am also a Civil War Reenactor, donning the uniform of the common Union and Confederate soldier at reenactments throughout the year.
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6 Responses to “Hatfields & McCoys” and the Validity of Historical Drama

  1. Gettysbuff says:

    Nice article. But have you ever thought about this:

    A) This show was more of a ‘western’, and lots of people love westerns and not necessarily historical dramas. So they may have tuned in because of that reason, and not the history.

    B) You don’t think the fact that this had MAJOR stars in it, like Kevin Costner, Bill Paxton and Tom Berenger, had anything to do with why people tuned in? We ARE talking about the average tv-watching member of the public here (which make up the majority of figures for any show), and to get viewing figures like that then the aforementioned stars of this show had a lot to do with creating those figures. Unfortunately History’s ‘Gettysburg’ was not fortunate enough to have any movie stars in it’s production. If it had it would certainly been a different story.

    So don’t get too excited yet, Steven. This was basically a good show that had lots of commercials/trailers beforehand (featuring said movie stars’ names in BIG letters) to attract an audience. If this show was only word-of-mouth, then viewing figures may have been different. Yes i do think that some of those people were history lovers, but i would bet money that the vast majority of the viewers were not. I enjoyed it a lot though.

    • Like I said, when an idea like this is put in the hands of talented actors and filmmakers, and promoted to let people know that this is a program worth viewing, the viewers will come in. “Hatfields & McCoys” had all of that. “To Appomattox” will have that, though in a somewhat bigger capacity. The latter will have even more star power than the former. Hopefully, it will be promoted as much as “Hatfields & McCoys” was. If it is, then it will be as successful, if not more so.

  2. Meg Thompson says:

    I agree with your statement that actual historical stories need little embellishing. History itself is so exciting. I am so looking forward to your movie–it’s going to be great, I just know it. Keep me in some sort of loop. and I will do some interviews for emergingcivilwar.com to promote. I have heard you are working with someone from the Museum of the Confederacy on the Rebel Yell. True? Let me know.

    • Ms. Thompson,

      This is primarily just a fan blog for the series. We’re not really officially associated with the series, even though we have the blessing of Michael Beckner. But keep an eye on this page and the Facebook pages. We will announce when anything comes up.

  3. Pingback: The “To Appomattox” Blog: One-Year Anniversary Retrospective! | To Appomattox

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