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Lisa Kudrow Answers the Question: Who Do You Think You Are?

by Nick Zaino, posted Mar 4th 2010 2:03PM
Lisa Kudrow Who Do You Think You Are?You might say genealogical research runs in Lisa Kudrow's family. Long before the former 'Friends' star decided to bring the British TV show 'Who Do You Think You Are?' to American television, her father had already written a family tree that Kudrow says takes up roughly 46 pages.

Kudrow saw the long-running original show, which investigates the family history and genealogy of celebrities, when visiting Ireland, and decided to bring it to American audiences. The only question was, would she tell her own story on the show?

The answer came quickly, thanks in part to her father's research. "When we went into production, they decided I did have a good story to tell - they decided because they do the research and there were some things that my father didn't know about and that I didn't know about," said Kudrow in a conference call with media. "That's kind of the key to the show. Is there anything that the subject can learn in it? So for me that was going to be one of the challenging things because so much work had already been done by my dad."

It turns out there is a lot we don't know about ourselves, or at least, there is a lot the show's subjects didn't know about their own history. In the first episode, which premieres tomorrow at 8PM, Sarah Jessica Parker's family history takes her coast to coast, from the Gold Rush to the Salem witch trials. Next week, Emmitt Smith discovers some uncomfortable events and inspiration in the lives of the slaves that were his ancestors.

In Kudrow's episode, which airs March 19, she confronts the history of her great grandmother, who was killed when the Nazis slaughtered the town of Ilya in Belarus. It's a story her father remembers, having escaped the massacre after being warned in time to get out.

"I was afraid just to explore the massacre of my great grandmother and her friends and neighbors and other children," she says. "Once I got there it wasn't fear anymore it was just profound sadness and rage and the rage surprised me."

The current run of the show is seven episodes, looking at Kudrow, Parker, Smith, Matthew Broderick, Brooke Shields, Susan Sarandon, and Spike Lee. Kudrow and her fellow producers are hoping for a second season, but that has yet to be decided.

The celebrities are what draw people to the show, but, as Kudrow points out, as the story unravels, it's the history that's important. "While the person who's taking the audience on this journey is well known their great, great, great grandfather was not famous," she says. "The people that we're focusing on in these stories are ordinary people."

Kudrow found some of those ordinary people when she went to Belarus, and was able to connect her father to them in a very emotional way. Kudrow says she did this for herself, but also for her father, to help him further his research and fill in some holes. "It is information that he worked so hard for so many years to get information and now he was getting new information that he couldn't have gotten before," she says.

Kudrow is hoping that the show will inspire people to investigate their own family tree and possibly find their own connection to history. "There's an intimacy to it now that it's not just dry history that happened to strangers," she says. "It has more impact. We're supposed to study history. We're supposed to know what we've done before - how did we do things? How did it work? How didn't it work to learn from it and hopefully this makes it worth knowing."

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Can somebody please tell me the best place to find my family history? Do I use the swab test, the saliva test, or what? Which place? How much should this cost and how long will it take to get the results? Thanks so much!
Cheers, Randy rthreec at yahoo dot com

April 20 2010 at 10:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I haven't seen Faces of America, though the shows sound similar, but...

is it just me or do people really care to learn the genealogies of celebrities?

They (the celebs) are rich enough that they can spend the money to find out about their own relatives.

I did see a show that was interesting (on PBS) that traced descendants of illegitimate children of kings (in England, I think) and they would surprise these everyday, normal people by telling them how they were related to royalty. The descendants were usually so far removed (like generations) and they are "illegitimate" anyway, so it's not like they get anything out of it, but at least they got to keep the family tree poster!

March 04 2010 at 9:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'll stick with Faces of America, thanks.

March 04 2010 at 5:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How is this show different from "Faces of America" on PBS? That show has been fantastic so far.

March 04 2010 at 4:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ashley Boyd

I've watched one or two of the British ones (when the celebrity actually interests me) and I'd be interested in Kudrow's episode.

Depends who they get really, because apart from hardcore genealogy enthusiasts the audience will be drawn to the celeb.

March 04 2010 at 2:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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