"Secrets of the Dead": Going for the Grisly Gives TV Show Staying Power

Roundup: Pop Culture & the Arts ... Movies, Documentaries and Museum Exhibits

The discovery of a grisly twist in the relationship between the Aztecs and the conquistadors; a largely unknown story of two Jewish men who escaped from Auschwitz; the true tale of the illegal drugs given to East German athletes. Without high-tech graphics or extravagant claims, the PBS series “Secrets of the Dead” has thrived for seven seasons (a dowager in TV years) by blending history, science, archaeology and other disciplines with old-fashioned detective work.

The series, produced by WNET in New York, starts its eighth season on Wednesday on most stations. It has been well received by critics and has scooped up numerous awards, including several Cine Golden Eagles, which honor documentaries, and three Emmy nominations.

“The stories that work either shed some light on a moment in history we know a lot about or a moment that has been forgotten,” said Jared Lipworth, executive producer of the series.

The 34 episodes to date have been brought to life with re-enactments and interviews with experts. The Vikings, witch trials, the tomb of Jesus, the black plague, unclaimed victims of the Titanic, and descendants of Amazon warrior women have been among the topics.

“Diseases are popular,” Mr. Lipworth added, mentioning programs on syphilis and killer influenza.

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