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Senior Sam Catalano and alumnus Joseph Moniaci ’96 developed the "What History Forgot" TV series on
Student, alumnus behind TV series about forgotten history
July 8, 2015Tweet
You’ve probably heard of Paul Revere, the American patriot who warned the Colonial militia of a British attack during the American Revolutionary War, but what about Samuel Prescott? He, too, had a role in the famous “midnight ride,” but Revere gets all the attention.
Senior Sam Catalano and alumnus Joseph Moniaci ’96 hope to change that. They’re behind a new TV series called “What History Forgot,” which brings history’s forgotten events and heroes, like the brave Mr. Prescott, to the forefront. Catalano is the brains behind the show; Moniaci, the host.
Each episode in this six-part series features Moniaci as he discusses four stories of “forgotten” history, speaking to experts and examining historical sites firsthand to bring these stories to life.
“Not only do they we force people to challenge their more entrenched ideas or notions about what it is they think they know about history,” Moniaci said, “it’s important in and of itself to recognize the contributions of people that who have been overlooked.”
One segment highlights the infamous Black Tom incident of 1916, in which a German spy ring carried out a series of synchronized explosions in Jersey City, N.J., right outside of New York City.
“There are a lot of parallels you can try and draw between that and 9/11,” Moniaci said. “Most people don’t think about it or haven’t even heard about it. That’s a really interesting event to me.”
These buried stories of America’s past were certainly interesting to Catalano, who came up with the idea for the show while interning in the development department at Atlas Media, an indie production company owned by Bruce David Klein ’84. He was working on a pitch for a different show when he came across a story about Alfred Ely Beach, who designed New York City’s earliest subway, the Beach Pneumatic Transit, in 1904.
“I started Googling what else was forgotten, and I started thinking about these B-side stories of history,” Catalano said. “What happens to the guy who’s just called ‘the other guy’?”
Looking for more ideas, he thought of Moniaci, his former AP U.S. history teacher.
“He was totally animated. This guy was infamous for drinking seven cups of coffee a day and jumping all over the room,” Catalano said. “And he also was infamous for teaching stuff that wasn’t going to be on the test. t….Some of the kids, that would drive them crazy, but other kids really loved the information. That’s what I remembered when I went to go pitch the show, that we learned all of this stuff we had never really heard before.”
Catalano e-mailed Moniaci and asked if he had any stories that might fit the concept, then called “Forgotten History.” After suggesting some ideas, Moniaci jokingly said that if the show got produced, he’d get to be the host. Catalano said “I’ll contact your agent,” but Moniaci was serious.
“Once he said, ‘I’ll be the host,’ the gears started going and I was like ‘Sure, why not?’” Catalano said.
Catalano borrowed his friend’s video camera, drove to Moniaci’s home in Brooklyn and shot an interview of him in his kitchen. He cut the 60-minute interview down to five minutes and showed it to his boss, who was impressed, as was Atlas’ head of talent.
That Moniaci is a natural in front of the camera should be no surprise. While he attended Binghamton, he performed with the Hinman Production Company and acted in a stage production of Scapino.
While he hasn’t acted in years, being in front of a classroom translates pretty easily to being in front of a camera, Moniaci said.
“I think a lot of teachers , not all teachers, are, by nature, kind of performers,” he said. “We have to be on. It’s not like you can come to work and sit at your desk for two hours and nobody bothers you. I arrive at school at 7:30 and by like 7:50, you’re I’m on. You’ve I’ve got 30 students sitting in front of you me and they’re expecting to hear something interesting. So I feel like being the teacher and that kind of performance aspect has definitely adapted very well to being in front of the camera.”
Highlighting forgotten history is nothing new for Moniaci; he does it all the time in the classroom. It really helps to enliven students.
“You start talking about something they’ve never heard of before, and all of a sudden you get their interest,” he said. “Their heads pick up just a little bit. Oftentimes, the stuff that’s not on the test and not in the textbook, that really is the most fascinating to learn about.”
With Moniaci as host, Atlasus pitched the show to the History Channel, H2 (the History Channel’s sister channel) and the America Heroes Channel. A couple of months went by and Catalano didn’t hear anything. He was disappointed, but happy the show had gotten as far as it did. But things changed in August 2014, when he received a congratulatory e-mail saying Atlas had sold the show to the American Heroes Channel.
“I definitely lost it at that moment,” Catalano said. “I just put in Kanye West and started dancing around my house.”
Shooting took place over several months in New York City. Catalano would drive down to the city from Binghamton every weekend, and Moniaci had to squeeze in weekend shoots on top of his normal workweek. The work was demanding, but the two had a blast working together on set.
After teaching for 13 years, hosting a TV show wasn’t something Moniaci ever imagined doing. But he loves it, his family supports him — and his students think it’s super cool to have a teacher on TV.
“They think it’s great. They’re really excited,” Moniaci said. “One day after the second episode aired, they stood up and started applauding.”
If “What History Forgot” gets picked up for a second batch of episodes, Catalano will head back down to New York and assist with production. Whatever happens, he wants to work in the creative side of television and movies, and he wants to do it all: direct commercials, green-light a series, work with talent, etc. He is currently working as a production intern at Legendary Pictures in Los Angeles.
“I really just want to be involved in the creative side of things in media,” he said. “In five years, I’d like to be working somewhere where I can make have an influence.”
And what does it feel like to develop a TV show at the ripe age of 20?
“It’s definitely shocking,” Catalano said. “I just really wanted to make a good impression on my boss. I wasn’t looking to sell a TV show. But now that I did it, I’m ambitious that and I want to do it again.”