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What if television had been around for the last five thousand years?
Such is the premise of History Bites, a Canadian Sketch Comedy series (1998-2003) created by Rick Green (of The Red Green Show and Prisoners of Gravity) to explore and satirize history through the lens of current pop culture. Each episode opened with Rick explaining the topic and dramatically pushing a button on his remote control, "changing the channel" to begin the meat of the program.
The show proper is presented as what a bored channel surfer sees as he flips through programs like the news, Martha Stewart Living, Jeopardy! and Seinfeld against the backdrop of historical events like the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar, the popularity of the plays of William Shakespeare, the revenge of The 47 Ronin, the rise of Christianity, the invention of agriculture, and the shootout at Fly's Photographic Studio (better known as the gunfight at the OK Corral).
After the series ended, the show did five one-hour specials that removed the channel-surfing idea. Reruns of the series are shown on the Comedy Network and History Television.
The show avoided the Nostalgia Filter: Rick ended each episode by bringing up how casual injustice (oft demonstrated in the proceedings) is connected to prejudice and ignorance, how advances in science and medicine make life today so much better than any point in history, and History... Bites. *click*
This show contains examples of:
- Anachronism Stew: The show's premise is that television (and modern programs) have existed since the invention of agriculture.
- Bishonen: Peter Oldring's characters, especially Alexander the Great.
- The Cast Showoff: Ron Pardo sang and played guitar in a few sketches, usually as either a stand-up comic or kids' show host.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Done to point out how far humanity has advanced in science, technology and society since the events depicted.
- The Dung Ages: The show made a point of how bad life was in centuries past.
- Every Episode Ending: Rick comes back to talk about the subject matter and how it influenced history, and history bites.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Rick Green and Bob Bainborough were regulars on The Red Green Show, and Ron Pardo performed stand-up on Comedy at Club 54.
- Hospital Gurney Scene: The agriculture episode featured a medical drama. Teresa Pavlinek's doctor character ordered a trepanning for every patient, no matter what the diagnosis.
- Hurricane of Puns: The priest of Pan making an infomercial for lesser-known Greek gods.
- In the Style Of: Some episodes had the "main plot" done in a specific style; for example, the investigation and prosecution of the murder of Thomas Beckett was presented as an episode of Law and Order, while Sir Isaac Newton's episode was done like A Beautiful Mind.
- Man of a Thousand Voices: Ron Pardo. Close your eyes and you'd swear that that's really Don Cherry or Dennis Miller. Pardo credits his skills to watching too much television as a child.
- Medieval Morons: Timmy the Jeopardy! contestant was a dirt-farming peasant out of The Dung Ages, but he got at least one right answer.
- Of Corpse He's Alive: Qin Shi Huangdi's advisers tried to fool the media with this ploy, covering his head with a burlap sack with a face drawn on it and (historically) covering up the smell of his decomposition with rotting fish. It looked like it worked.
- Pride Before a Fall: Leonard the Jeopardy! contestant always responded with a smug grin and condescension in his voice, which evaporated quickly when the host rejected his response.
- Punny Name: The Zamboni family cleaned the Colosseum's arena floor between bouts in one episode; puns were rare among episode titles, but there were some, like "Bjarney & Friends" (Norse settlers in North America), "Cleo Can Kiss My Asp" (Cleopatra/Marc Antony/Octavian triangle), and "My Pharaoh Lady" (Pharaoh Hatshepsut).
- Sidetracked by the Analogy: A journalist interviewing an early Christian misinterprets the metaphors in play and concludes that Christianity is a cannibal cult.
- Unfortunate Names: Bob Bainborough's anchorman characters tended to these, such as "Intellectus Minimus".
- A Worldwide Punomenon: The TV Guide listings during the show.
- Ye Goode Olde Days: Averted. History Bites wasn't afraid to tackle the casual racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and ignorance that pervaded history. They didn't have the makeup budget to make the cast look less than decent, however.