Ashley Judd on Who Do You Think You Are?

Ashley Judd says she gave the producers of the NBC series Who Do You Think You Are? a bit of a challenge.

Ashley Judd in the NBC series, Who Do You Think You Are? © NBC photo by Mark Allan.

Ashley Judd on the NBC series, "Who Do You Think You Are?" © NBC photo by Mark Allan.

“When they were talking to me, they were surprised at how much I did know,” Judd says, referring to her and her family’s long-held interest in their genealogy. “A key element of the program is the surprise factor in revealing to the star information that they did not know. They were like, ‘OK, you’re going to be a challenge. How are we going to find family data that you don’t know yet?’

“Then they said, ‘What would you like to know?’ and I said, ‘Where does my passion for social justice come from?’ I have such an inexorable drive for positive reform, for equality,  for justice. Is there a precedent in the family for these kinds of values and civic participation?

“And there is. There most certainly is. They found the big one.”

What the big one is you can find out on the show at 8 p.m. ET tonight (April 8, 2011) on NBC, but let’s just say it goes back 12 generations and crosses the Atlantic Ocean.

And that’s part of what makes this show cool.

Who Do You Think You Are? had not shown up on my radar before Ms. Judd’s episode because on the surface it felt like just another celebrity-based reality show.

But watching tonight’s episode it struck me that this is prime time network television where history and culture are being discussed in detail and in a pretty fascinating way, and the network is not PBS. Yes, the show has its gimmicks and somewhat manufactured drama. But it is also touching and enlightening, two things you really can’t say about most TV today, particularly reality TV.

For Kentuckians, with Judd’s episode, we see some familiar landscapes and places, including  a visit to Frankfort.

“I loved going to the state archives,” Judd said in an interview Friday for a story that will be in Sunday’s Herald-Leader and on about her new memoir, All That is Bitter and Sweet. “They were wonderful people and I loved getting on that microfiche and looking at property records and … it’s enthralling.”

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