Brian Unger has a special ability to mix facts and fun. He did that skillfully with"How the States Got Their Shapes"; now he's doing it again with the fun "Time Travelling." It debuts Monday (April 20); here's the story I sent to papers:
By Mike Hughes
So let's say you
want to mingle with history.
Don't be so quick to
try Athens or Machu Picchu. There might be something historic near
“I am shocked by
how little people know about the place where they live,” Brian
He includes himself
in that. Unger lived in New York City for a dozen years, but it
wasn't until starting cable's “Time Traveling” series that he
really discovered the Woolworth Building.
“We've walked by
it many times,” he said. “But as New Yorkers, we're too busy to
Then the show had
him tour it with local people and tell some intriguing stories.
In an era when most
businessmen were understated, Unger said, F.W. Woolworth was “the
Donald Trump of his time.” With a nickel-and-dime business
(literally), he compiled a fortune and created a building that cost
$13.5 million in 1913. For its first 15 years, it was considered the
world's tallest building; after a century, it was still one of the
country's 100 tallest.
Most of this space
was rented to other people ... including, eventually, a secret office
for the military's “Manhattan Project” atom-bomb effort. But the
building has a grand look ... complete with a sculpture showing
Woolworth counting coins. One booklet-writer called it “the
cathedral of commerce.”
Other spots have
similar quirks. In the two opening-night episodes, Unger also shows
-- The Golden Gate
Bridge, crafted (in the middle of the Depression) by two brilliant
engineers ... who disagreed so often that one didn't get his name on
the plaque. That was rectified, 70 years later.
-- Las Vegas ranches
where people stayed (often with current lovers) during a six-week
Nevada divorce. These were the temporary homes of Clark Gable, Mickey
Rooney, Howard Hughes and more.
-- And Tombstone,
Ariz., where, he was told, the “gunfight at the OK Corral” didn't
happen at the corral ... probably lasted less than a minute ... and
was in a city where wearing guns was illegal.
that so much,” Unger said. “The stories get so mythologized.”
Hey, he liked those
myths. Unger, 49. was a “pretty stereotyped” kid with cowboy hat
and toy guns.
That was in
Granville, an Ohio town of 5,400, that seemed to promise bigger
possibilities. Granville has Denison University; Ohio has large
chunks of history. In school, Unger learned the state has been the
home of flight (Orville Wright, like Unger, was born in Dayton, where
the Wright Brothers spent their lives) and of presidents (seven
native Ohioans and one transplant).
So history was big
for him ... as was education. In Granville, his mom was his guidance
counselor and his dad was the superintendent. “When I told my dad I
wanted to be an actor he said, 'No you won't.'”
So he studied
journalism and did some acting, but mainly specialized in light news
reports – ranging from the first version of “The Daily Show” to
the amiable “How the States Got Their Shapes.”
Now the “Shapes”
producers have this new show, again with Unger hosting. These days,
he lives in California -- “the opposite of New York” -- and has
his own horses ... which may be why he looked like a natural while
riding a coin-operated kiddie horse in Tombstone, Arizona.
-- “Time Traveling
with Brian Unger”
-- 10 and 10:30 p.m.
Mondays, Travel Channel, rerunning at 1 and 1:30; debuts March 20