Whitford, Janney, Quinto get family knowledge
With interest in genealogy and family heritage at unprecedented levels these days, the return of a show like “Who Do You Think You Are?” seems well-timed.
Back on NBC Sunday, July 10, after a seven-season run on TLC, the series from executive producers Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky returns for its fourth season on the network to tell more stories of celebrities exploring their roots with the help of genealogists, historians and experts as well as the use of cutting-edge research tools.
So in this new round, family mysteries will be unlocked and eye-opening stories will be revealed for actors Zachary Levi (“Chuck”), Allison Janney (“Mom”), Billy Porter (“Pose”), Zachary Quinto (the “Star Trek” movies), Bradley Whitford (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) and Nick Offerman (“Parks and Recreation”).
In fact, Offerman’s story was in the process of being made when production shut down due to the COVID pandemic in early 2020. It resumed more than a year later, which made for a final product that Kudrow says wasn’t exactly seamless.
“For Nick, it was like right in the middle, like right after the beginning, so you know, we just have to address it in the show, which is no big deal,” she explains. “He looks completely different, and he says, ‘OK, so last time you saw me, I was about to do this, find out this and everything shut down.’ It was a year and a half ago.”
As for noteworthy stories this season, Kudrow points to those of Whitford, whose Civil War soldier ancestor fought for voting rights much as the actor himself does today; Janney, who found personal strength through a relative’s journey; and Porter, whose Black great-grandfather was murdered by a white policeman in 1920s Pittsburgh, which is the subject of Sunday’s season opener.
For Kudrow, learning more about history has been a side benefit of doing this show, though she admits she sees some of it repeating itself in sad and disheartening ways. But then there are also the quirky tales like one in the episode for Quinto, who saw a phrase used by Spock, the character he plays in the “Trek” films, surface in his ancestor’s story.
“(He) was a union representative,” Kudrow explains, “and wrote newsletters and signed off with ‘Live long and prosper.’ What are the odds? My ancestor never said, ‘Live long and prosper.’ I guess it was something that was said.”