Q&A With Brian Unger

With his new Travel Channel series, Time Traveling with Brian Unger, set to premiere this week (April 20 at 10|9c), we asked the host to give us some insight into what it was like to “go back in time” and visit some of the lesser-known details of well-known stories in American history.

In your own words, what is Time Traveling with Brian Unger all about?

In each episode, 4-5 people go on a journey of discovery in their own hometowns, a backstage tour of historical places, making the familiar new, asking “what was here before?” and debunking myths along the way — all the while using state-of-the-art computer graphics to bring archival photos to life. It’s like a trip to Disneyland for the very first time.

What is your favorite moment from the premiere episodes? Any memorable moments from Tombstone, AZ, or the Golden Gate Bridge?

I can’t forget standing on the observation deck of the Woolworth Building in New York, once the tallest building in the world, now in the shadow of the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, One World Trade Center. It’s an awesome, enormous symbol of human progress and industry. The same could be said for the Golden Gate Bridge. Seeing the underside of the bridge, one can appreciate the engineering miracle that it is, all designed without the aid of computers, by hand, and by someone who was mostly overlooked for his work, Charles Ellis. 

In Tombstone, AZ, a famous story has been preserved and a shoot-out immortalized. Seeing where it actually happened changes the story Hollywood us shown us over and over. Debunking is often as exciting as discovery.

What makes this show unique?

Going places ordinary folks can’t go is what makes us unique — that, and the complicated, intricate computer graphics that we are using to bring history to life. We’re literally inserting people into history through 4K camera technology and graphics that make this show unlike any other.

You’ve been on a few different television shows in your career. What can fans of your previous work, such as The Daily Show or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, expect from Time Traveling with Brian Unger?

Well, I’m trying to exploit the ironies of history as well as highlight the hidden history in towns and places across the country. You’d be amazed what people don’t know about the places that they call home. With that comes a lot of laughs, a lot of fun and unexpected consequences. And in discovery, often there is humor. It’s not a comedy, but I try to bring some lightness to the weight of history.

What was your favorite story from Season 1? Did any of the historical facts surprise you?

I loved Death Valley in California — it’s a near-mystical place. It’s beautiful, strange and chock-full of eccentric people who put this otherworldly place on the map. I also loved our all-access pass to Florida’s Cape Canaveral, courtesy of the US Air Force. It humanized the colossally technical, scientific world of space travel and brought a real understanding of its human cost.

Were you already a history buff before the show?

Deep in every person is a history nerd. It’s in our nature to question what came before us. I’m no different. I’ve always been passionate about politics and news — and history is a reflection of those things. History is just old news, or in the case of old, old news, it’s the news of the dead. We have much to learn from all of it to help us with the challenges we face today.

You visited tons of lesser-known landmarks. Which 1 stood out to you and had the biggest impact?

We just finished shooting in an unlikely historic place — in fact, it’s better known for its artists, writers and drinkers: Key West. What I didn’t know is the degree to which this tropical paradise served the country as the first line of defense against our archenemy, the Soviet Union, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Key West was, overnight, militarized, overrun with 15,000 troops, and equipped with machine-gun positions and Hawk missile batteries. Our photos bring this period to life as 4 Key Westers learn about the history under their feet. Or, rather, flip-flops.

Show Extras

Ford’s Theatre Now

Ford’s Theatre Now

The alley behind Ford’s Theatre looks like just about every other alley in Washington, DC. But it holds a secret much more deadly. 960 1280

  

Ford's Theater Then

Ford's Theater Then

Knowing the ins and outs of Ford’s Theatre like the back of his hand, actor-turned-assassin John Wilkes Booth fled out this alleyway and off into the night on April 14, 1865, after killing President Lincoln. 960 1280

  

Samuel Cox House Now

Samuel Cox House Now

This abandoned home in southern Maryland may not look like much, but it played a large part in one of America’s saddest tragedies. 960 1280

  

Samuel Cox Home Then

Samuel Cox Home Then

In 1865, this is what the Samuel Cox home looked like — a large Colonial country house that backed up to the woods and thicket. It was here that John Wilkes Booth stayed for nearly a week after assassinating Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre. 960 1280

  

Fort McNair Now

Fort McNair Now

This group of tennis courts at Fort McNair in Washington, DC, might seem fairly standard — just a great place to get in some exercise. 960 1280

  

Fort McNair Then

Fort McNair Then

But in the days following the assassination of President Lincoln, this landing prepared for the eventual hanging of Booth’s accomplices. 960 1280

  

US Capitol Now

US Capitol Now

Today, the US Capitol Building stands as a tribute to the old capitol buildings of Europe. The tall columns, the rotunda and the iconic Statue of Freedom on top all symbolize the hardworking and proud nation that the structure represents. 960 1280

  

US Capitol Then

US Capitol Then

But it didn’t always look that way. It took years to construct the building and often seemed as though it would never be completed.  960 1280

  

Lincoln Memorial Now

Lincoln Memorial Now

The Lincoln Memorial stands as one of the most revered monuments in DC. Located at 1 end of the National Mall and Reflecting Pool, it looks like something you would find in ancient Rome. 960 1280

  

Lincoln Memorial Then

Lincoln Memorial Then

But it took a long while to determine where exactly this building was going to be constructed. Many objected to the current location because it was essentially in a swamp and surrounded by some pretty unpleasant scenery. 960 1280

  

Washington Monument Now

Washington Monument Now

Arguably the most recognizable building in the DC skyline, the Washington Monument was built as a memorial to the United States’ first president, George Washington.  960 1280

  

Washington Monument Then

Washington Monument Then

However, when it was being constructed, there were major delays, thanks to a lack of funding and the fact that it was surrounded by the swamp that DC was built on. Not exactly a destination worth visiting. 960 1280

  

Hollywood Now

Hollywood Now

Now a modern-day condo complex, this storefront used to be a celebrity hot spot. 960 1280

  

Hollywood then

Hollywood then

Back in Hollywood’s heyday, this was the location of the Brown Derby restaurant, which was a favorite late-night hangout for the Hollywood elite. 960 1280

  

Hollywood Hills Now

Hollywood Hills Now

This shot looking down onto Glendale Boulevard in Hollywood seems like nothing special — some buildings, warehouses and, most notably, a public storage facility. 960 1280

  

Hollywood Hills Then

Hollywood Hills Then

But in the early 20th century, this was a hotbed for the movie industry. This is where Keystone and Mack Sennett Studios were located and the place where Charlie Chaplin got his start in silent films. 960 1280

  

OK Corral Now

OK Corral Now

A major tourist destination today, the OK Corral has been restored for visitors to see and get a taste of the Wild West. 960 1280

  

OK Corral Then

OK Corral Then

In reality, the OK Corral was not the location of the infamous shoot-out in 1881. Instead, the contentious cowboys and lawmakers went down to a vacant lot on Fremont Street, a few blocks away, to square off. 960 1280

  

Tombstone Now

Tombstone Now

Much quieter than it has been in the past, Allen Street still acts as a main street for this tourist town in Arizona. 960 1280

  

Tombstone Then

Tombstone Then

Allen Street doesn’t look much different now than it did in 1881, shortly after the Earp brothers strolled into town to get into the gaming business while serving as the town’s law enforcement. 960 1280

  

Vegas Divorce Ranch Now

Vegas Divorce Ranch Now

Mostly a vacant parking lot surrounded by desert, this was once the spot of a famous ranch that helped Hollywood elite get quickie divorces. 960 1280

  

Vegas Divorce Ranch Then

Vegas Divorce Ranch Then

If you were looking to get unhitched, Las Vegas was your place. To promote business and tourism during the Great Depression, Nevada dropped its regulation from 1 year to 6 weeks to finalize a divorce. The old Boldorado Ranch was the first of its kind — a place where you could go to unwind and relax while waiting for a divorce.  960 1280

  

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