Ben Affleck’s embarrassment over an upsetting find in his family tree and the mess that followed has put the fourth season of the PBS show Finding Your Roots in jeopardy.
Last fall, the episode of PBS’s genealogy show Finding Your Roots featuring Ben Affleck aired without much fanfare. But not long after that, it was revealed in the Sony email leaks that a “megastar” who had been featured on the show had requested that a rather unsavory ancestor not be mentioned in his episode. Henry Louis Gates Jr., the host and executive producer of the show, made mention of the request saying that granting this megastar’s wishes would mean a slippery slope of censorship and dishonesty on the part of the show, plus it “would be a violation of PBS rules, actually, even for Batman.”
So that was kind of a dead giveaway. And then Affleck went and named that ancestor anyway, who was a slave owner, which embarrassed Affleck. (Documentarian Ken Burns and CNN’s Anderson Cooper were also revealed to have been descended from slave owners, but apparently didn’t meet the definition of “megastar.”) Now, Gates had to answer for 1. censorship, 2. appeasing a celebrity, and 3. violating those PBS rules that he mentioned.
Now, PBS is pulling the Affleck episode from any future airings and home video and the upcoming third season is being postponed until some staffing changes are made; those changes may or may not involve Gates and the show’s co-producer Dyllan McGee. But then there’s the fourth season, which looks bleak:
PBS also has informed the series co-producers that it has deferred any commitment to a fourth season until it is satisfied that the editorial standards of the series have been successfully raised to a level in which PBS “can have confidence.”
That sounds… bad. So, if you’re trying to please a celebrity who wants to keep a secret, make sure you don’t reveal his secret identity in an email.