After The History Channel first arrived on cable in 1995, critics dismissed it as “The Hitler Channel” due to its WWII-heavy focus. But a decade later, things started to change. For one thing, the channel was rebranded as simply History. And for another, its programming shifted towards reality TV shows such as American Pickers, Pawn Stars and Counting Cars. Yet while the actual historical content of these shows is questionable, there’s no doubt that they’ve boosted the channel’s ratings considerably. So the network heads probably had a few restless nights when news broke of the following 20 shocking scandals.
20. Timothy Zickuhr got locked up
In 2010 History’s hit reality show Ice Road Truckers produced a spinoff called IRT: Deadliest Roads. The premise of the show is pretty much the same as its parent program – only this time the drivers are testing their skills in decidedly sunnier environs. And one member of the cast – whom History described as “brimming with personality” on its official site – was Timothy Zickuhr.
But in a shocking twist Zickuhr pleaded guilty to extortionate collection of debt and first-degree kidnapping in 2015, according to Page Six. This came about after Zickuhr had been arrested two years earlier for apparently abducting and bullying a prostitute. The star was subsequently handed a five-to-15-year jail term, and also later faced a felony charge of theft.
19. The Kennedys caused controversy
In December 2009 History announced its intention to air The Kennedys, a show about one of America’s most famous political families. But merely weeks later – before any film had even been shot – a one-time John F. Kennedy advisor labeled the series “vindictive” in The New York Times. And the troubles for the show’s producers were only just beginning.
First came the constant script revisions to gain the approval of the network’s historians. And then, even after stars such as Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes had been cast in key roles, History suddenly pulled the series from air altogether. Producer Joel Surnow later claimed that this was down to corporate board members being friends with the real-life Kennedys. But whatever the case, the show finally found a home on ReelzChannel.
18. Two Swamp People stars got themselves arrested
Swamp People follows the misadventures of a group in Louisiana as they chase down alligators during hunting season. The show has seemingly proved to be a great success for History too. The network has, after all, not long aired Swamp People’s tenth season. But that’s not to say that there hasn’t been a few speed bumps on the road to glory.
In 2013 for instance, Swamp People stars R.J. Molinere and his son Jay Paul Molinere were placed under arrest in Louisiana. Their alleged crime? Attacking a man with a beer bottle. The pair denied the charges when they later appeared in court, though, and were at the time released on bail. If the Molineres had been convicted, by the way, the alligator hunters might have been sentenced to a decade behind bars.
17. More trouble in the swamp
Even before the Molineres were arrested, though, another star of Swamp People had already made headlines for all the wrong reasons. In 2012, you see, “Trapper” Joe LaFont had also got into trouble with the law. This time, however, the reality TV personality was reportedly booked on domestic abuse charges.
According to reports, LaFont was alleged to have shattered a pair of his partner’s ribs during an altercation. The star was later let out on bond, though, and his girlfriend apparently refused to press charges. Yet it turned out that this apparently wasn’t a first-time offense for LaFont; he’d reportedly previously had run-ins with police over two separate incidents of domestic violence.
16. And another one bites the dust
A Swamp People presenter also caused controversy in 2017. This time, though, it was Roger A. Rivers Jr. in the news. Rivers had grown up in Ark-La-Tex and had once boasted to KSLA that he’d caught a 1,300-pound alligator. He joined the cast of “Swampers” for season five of History’s hit show.
But after his tenure on Swamp People, Rivers got into serious-sounding trouble. In fact, a warden of the Sabine Parish Detention Center revealed to KSLA in 2017 that the former presenter had been charged on no fewer than 18 counts of wildlife violations – plus an additional pair of drug offenses. And the following year, Rivers pleaded guilty to game violation charges.
15. Back to the swamp…
The drama behind the scenes of Swamp People doesn’t even finish there. In 2016, you see, police in Louisiana charged reality star Chase Landry with unlawful firing of a weapon. Landry had allegedly shot at another boat while he’d been out hunting alligators – but that wasn’t quite the end of the story.
The following year TMZ reported that Landry was due in court for the first day of the trial; but he reportedly never showed up. This then seemingly left the authorities with no choice but to issue a warrant for the missing hunter. Yet what happened next is seemingly unknown – or at least unreported in the press.
14. Bigfoot’s capture was a big fake
In November 2015 viewers of History were treated to a show called Bigfoot Captured. The premise of this documentary – as outlined in the official press release – was that an expert had actually managed to ensnare a real-life Sasquatch. And as the show presented itself as non-fiction, many audience members were apparently conned into thinking that it had really happened.
Sadly, though, this just wasn’t the case. In fact, Bigfoot Captured was essentially a TV movie; the hunters were all played by actors. And the supposed Sasquatch skeleton was a prop – it was constructed by the Idaho State University’s Robotics and Communication Systems Engineering Technology program.
13. Positive ID
History’s Hunting Hitler ran for three seasons from 2015 to 2018; and in its very last episode, the show went out with a bang. You see, the presenters had interviewed the grandchild of a Nazi war criminal. But this special guest had apparently only agreed to appear as an “anonymous informant” with a pixelated face.
Yet eagle-eyed viewers swiftly spotted that the man’s face was clearly visible during one section. One audience member even managed to grab a screenshot and post it on Twitter. User James Agne wrote alongside the image, “So much for protecting the identity of the Nazi informant.”
12. Amelia Earhart’s disappearance is still a mystery
In 2017 History aired a documentary that claimed to provide never-before-seen evidence of what really happened to Amelia Earhart. As you probably know, she was a world-famous pilot who went missing under mysterious circumstances in 1937. To that end, History’s Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence declared that it finally had some clues.
So what was this new evidence? Well, the documentary team claimed that they had a photo of the missing pilot and her wayfinder, Fred Noonan. If accurate, the photo would therefore show Earhart as being well and truly alive after her supposed crash. Yet only 48 hours after the documentary went out, CNN reported that bloggers said the picture was actually taken two years before she went missing – and possibly didn’t even feature Earhart.
11. American Pickers got sued
American Pickers is closing in on 300 episodes and showing no signs of going anywhere. The show – hosted by Frank Fritz and Mike Wolfe – follows the so-called pickers as they raid America’s junk sales in search of hidden gems that they can then sell for big bucks. Yet even this runaway success has not been free from controversy.
In 2014 an auctioneer named Jerry Bruce filed a complaint against Fritz alleging that the host had reneged on a deal, according to a report in USA Today. And the judge came down on Bruce’s side after Fritz didn’t file a response, handing him a $1,000 judgement to be paid by the American Pickers star.
10. Fritz went on the fritz
In 2017 American Pickers host Frank Fritz also found himself in a spot of trouble with the law. This time, though, it had nothing to do with antiques. According to a March 2018 report from KIIK 104.9, the reality star had been flagged down by cops after he’d been spotted driving his pickup in the wrong direction along Interstate 80 a year earlier.
Fritz was subsequently charged with driving under the influence and eventually pleaded guilty in court. Then, in March 2018 a judge handed him a year’s worth of probation as well as a $625 penalty. The host apparently also later admitted to having drank alcohol and taken Xanax.
9. One show featured an Obama lookalike as Satan
In 2013 History unveiled a ten-hour mini-series called The Bible, which was created and directed by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett. The show depicted scenes from the New and Old Testaments and reportedly earned around 100 million views. Yet it was the show’s depiction of the Devil that ruffled feathers on social media.
In the series, you see, the actor portraying the Devil is Mohamen Mehdi Ouazanni. But many viewers pointed out online that he looks an awful lot like then-president Barack Obama. The resulting outcry culminated in the producers removing all scenes of the Devil when the mini-series was later edited down into the movie Son of God.
8. Mountain man was a health hazard
History has put out well over 100 episodes of Mountain Men, and the show is still going strong. On its website, History notes that one of the program’s hosts, Eustace Conway, is arguably “the king of the mountain men” – but what does that mean? Well, Conway lives completely off the grid and preaches a more primitive way of living.
However, in 2012 Conway got a dose of reality after someone complained that his land was populated with uninspected buildings that had been constructed without permission. This in turn led to a search conducted by the Watauga County Planning and Inspection Department. A county attorney then instructed Conway to get the correct permits, or lose the buildings altogether.
7. Ax man faced the chop
Jimmy Smith is just one of the stars of History’s hit reality show Ax Men. And it was his time on the show – which follows the trials and tribulations of a number of logging crews – that actually got him into a spot of hot water. In 2010, in fact, Smith’s logging practices caught the attention of Washington State’s Department of Natural Resources.
According to NPR, Smith’s business revolved around collecting timber from beneath the surface of Washington’s Hoquiam River. Unfortunately, though, Washington State has outlawed this retrieval method – meaning Smith had to leave the state to continue working in this way.
6. Pawn Stars reached melting point
History’s Pawn Stars is filmed in an actual store: the World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas. And the series offers a glimpse inside the daily activities at the pawnbroker’s. Yet while that description might not immediately sound enticing, Pawn Stars actually reached five million viewers each week at the height of its fame.
But there have been some downsides to this success. Notably, in 2014 one David Walters filed a criminal complaint against Pawn Stars. Walters in fact claimed that his self-valued $50,000 coin collection had been stolen and sold to the shop. But by the time cops checked on the items, the coins had apparently already been melted down.
5. More trouble in store for the Pawn Stars
The gold coin complaint from 2014 is seemingly peanuts compared to a lawsuit from two years previous, however. Two years earlier talent agency Venture IAB filed a suit with the Los Angeles Superior Court – for $5 million. Yet while the Pawn Stars hosts were at the center of the case, the defendants named were actually History executives.
The complaint argued that the network higher-ups had encouraged the Harrison family and Austin “Chumlee” Russell to leave Venture IAB in favor of an agent with whom the execs were friendly. So the $5 million claim came down to Venture saying it had lost this amount in commissions. There was no word on the final outcome, though.
4. Chumlee got arrested
In March 2016 Russell found himself in a whole heap of trouble. That’s because the Las Vegas police raided his home and discovered a bunch of items Chumlee didn’t legally have possession of. This included guns – a lot of them – and more than a few drugs.
In fact, USA Today reported that the cops quickly uncovered weed, meth, a dozen weapons and plenty of other assorted goods. Chumlee was therefore taken into custody. Then, in May 2016 USA Today revealed that Chumlee pled guilty to a felony firearms charge and possession of drugs – for which he received three years of probation.
3. Danny Koker “could care less” about the environment
History has so far put out eight seasons of Pawn Stars spinoff Counting Cars. The reality show documents how the team at Las Vegas company Count’s Kustoms go about restoring classic vehicles. And the “Count” is a man called Danny Koker.
While promoting Counting Cars in 2013, though, Koker let slip that he didn’t think much of environmentally conscious vehicles. The host told Global News, “Prius, I’ve got no use for. We’ve got more oil than we can shake a stick at. The politicians are playing a game. Let’s burn this stuff and have a good time.”
2. American Jungle alerted the cops
History broadcast American Jungle in 2013; and controversy soon followed. The series itself purported to be a reality show featuring warring clans in Hawaii fighting over the use of hunting trails. But it was one of these apparent hunting expeditions that seemingly caught the eye of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The authorities stated that hunting after dark on the island is prohibited, CBS reported in 2013. Yet an episode of American Jungle seemed to feature exactly that. In the end, though, nothing came of the investigation. Governor Neil Abercrombie said in a statement, “This appears to be a fictional ‘reality’ production with no connection to actual hunters in Hawaii.”
1. Pirate treasure was a red herring
Pirate Treasure of the Knights Templar arrived in 2015 with eight 60-minute episodes. The official synopsis, from October Films, claimed that the hosts – sub-aquatic adventurer Barry Clifford and history expert Scott Wolter – were looking for evidence that “may very well alter the course of history.” And in May 2015 Clifford claimed to have found precisely that.
In fact, Clifford revealed that he’d found the buried treasure of notorious 17th century pirate William Kidd. Yet one team of experts didn’t agree. And when Unesco came calling, it shot down Clifford’s discovery, declaring it as little more than lead and rubble. Clifford later responded by claiming that Unesco simply dislikes “private enterprise.”