Ancient Aliens: 14 Facts About The History Channel Show

In 2009, the History Channel's "Ancient Aliens" took a far-out concept and rocketed it into the pop culture hive mind. It dared to ask two questions: "Was it aliens?" and "Are we serious?" Unfortunately, it's still yet to come up with a conclusive answer to either. Viewed through an objective and superficial lens, it's a show about passionate people discussing far-fetched ideas. Viewed through the lens of the public eye, it's either hard-hitting science that the government doesn't want you to know about, or a Yertle the Turtle pile of stupidity towering into the heavens. (Side note: Ever wonder how they stacked the turtles so high in that book? Aliens.)

Whether you're just casually aware of the program or a diehard fan, there's a lot about "Ancient Aliens" you might not know. Here's a behind-the-scenes look at this titan of documentary-ish television, a jewel in the History Channel lineup, presented without snark, sarcasm, or contempt.

It was made by a top shelf nerd

In show business, it's not what you know about aliens, it's who you know that knows about aliens. Case in point: the man without whom "Ancient Aliens" might not exist, executive producer Kevin Burns. It's a name that instantly calls to mind the question "Wait, the guy from the PBS documentaries?" No, that's Ken Burns. Totally different guy.

Kevin Burns was, for all intents and purposes, the reason "Ancient Aliens" ever made the leap to television. While he's not particularly well known for his contributions to educational programming, Burns was a pretty big deal behind the scenes of the nerd world. If you've ever watched the cult sci-fi series "Alien Nation," you're already familiar with his work. He also produced several specials about the "Star Wars" universe and took a couple of cracks at bringing back "Lost in Space"; once in 2004 with an unaired pilot and again in 2018 with Netflix.

In September of 2020, Burns died of a heart attack, aged 65, in Los Angeles.

You bring me the alien pictures, I'll bring you the alien war

Since its conception in 2009, "Ancient Aliens" has released a staggering number of seasons and hundreds of one-hour episodes. So if you like binge-watching, you can't do much better than "Ancient Aliens," although even veteran TV marathon viewers would struggle to get through this beast.

Here's the problem. As anyone who's ever worked on a sitcom can tell you, after a while, you just start to run out of ideas. On "Scrubs," it seemed to happen around the same time that Elliot cut her bangs. On "Ancient Aliens," well, it's tough to put your finger on it. Episodes have featured such topics as "did aliens make NASA?" and "did aliens change the course of the Civil War?" The answers, in case you were curious, are "no" and "no," but there just isn't any money in a show called "There Weren't Any Ancient Aliens."

Actual scientists hate it so much

It wouldn't make much sense to create an educational program without contributors who know what they're talking about. What would "Cosmos" be without Neil DeGrasse Tyson? How, indeed, would we know what C was for if it were not good enough for the esteemed Doctor Cookie F. Monster? He knows what C is for. He did his research. The results are in. The math adds up.

This being the case, it makes every bit of sense that "Ancient Aliens" would have its own stable of experts in their field. Now, given 18 seconds of thought, this raises an important question: How do you become an expert in aliens that have never been documented? According to actual scientists, you don't, according to Forbes. The argument pretty much goes that being an authority on speculative alien history makes you a scientist in the same way that writing "Harry Potter" made J.K. Rowling a wizard archaeologist. Fun's fun, but don't pretend you did anything besides come up with a story.

It inspired skeptics to get real loud

"Ancient Aliens" has built up a dedicated fan base over the years, but you know who just might have spent more time on the series than its fans? The people who've never seen a full episode because every time they start one, they have to go into another room and scream into a pillow. While it may have inspired a few new Mutt Joneses to go searching for crystal skulls, it's incontrovertible that at this point, "Ancient Aliens" has birthed a lot more skeptics.

A cursory glance at the internet will show that there are now swaths of blogs, acres of Reddit, and hours of YouTube content dedicated to breaking down the hypotheses presented on the show. There's even a "Lord of the Rings"-length documentary, "Debunking Ancient Aliens," that came out in 2012. The haters have been so thorough about debunking the show, the only question left unanswered is how they managed to rain so hard on this parade. For possible answers, please feel free to look up the "Ancient Aliens" episode "The Great Flood."

The 'Aliens' guy is crazier than his hair lets on

It just wouldn't be an "Ancient Aliens" piece without a section about the most flammable hairdo working in entertainment today: Giorgio Tsoukalos, aka the meme (which Tsoukalos says he loves) that your friend keeps sharing even though it's been almost a decade. When such colorful characters as Tsoukalos come into view, it's easy for the public to write them off as zany cartoons and not real people.

Tsoukalos has apparently always had a flair for the outrageous, having started out as a promoter for professional bodybuilders (via Ithaca College). But the world of dudes with 32-inch waists and 54-inch shoulders was too grounded in reality for Giorgio, so he switched things up and went on to find acclaim as a man who argues that the reason we can't see aliens is that they're invisible. For a more intimate look into the mind of a man who now sweats AquaNet, his Instagram page offers an insight: a charming mix of sci-fi movie paraphernalia, people who dressed up as him for Halloween, and, weirdly, pseudoscience that he's debunked. Pick a lane, Tsoukalos.

And he's not the only one

Aside from the walking fire hazard that is Giorgio Tsoukalos, the most frequent guest contributor on "Ancient Aliens" is a fella named David Childress. A college dropout (nothing wrong with that) turned author and self-publisher (right on, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps!), specializing in the history of Atlantis (whoops ... umm), and a history of allegations of plagiarizing the works of other authors for his own financial gain (all right, you're on your own, Davy), according to the blog

Okay, but let's ignore that last part for the time being. Everyone makes mistakes, right? It's important at times to judge a person by their works and not their deeds. Do Childress' theories on the utopian techtropolis of Atlantis hold, you know, water?

Not by a long shot. As it turns out, the story of Atlantis was written by Plato, the same guy who gave us the "Allegory of the Cave" and other fables, always with the intention of getting across a philosophical moral. In the case of Atlantis, it was a story about an advanced civilization that learned the dangers of hubris. It was Jurassic Park, basically. And this guy wants to find it.

And they're not the only ones

And then there's Erich von Daniken. Appearing on "Ancient Aliens" numerous times, this venerable Swiss charm bucket is famous for popularizing swathes of pseudoscience in his bestselling books "Chariots of the Gods," "The Gold of the Gods," and the somewhat less spiritually titled "History Was Wrong." 

What he's less famous for? So glad you asked: his numerous criminal convictions, including fraud and embezzlement in the '50s and '60s. Yes, between 1957 and 1968, Daniken was working as a hotel manager in Davos, Switzerland. While working there, he racked up an eye-popping $130,000 in debt. Keep in mind, those are '50s and '60s dollars, so factoring in inflation, you're looking at a seven-figure sum in today's Benjamins. He did all this through "misrepresentation of his financial situation, falsifying the hotel's books to make it appear solvent," according to an article by The New York Times on the guy from 1974.

Here's the fun bit: As part of that case, Daniken entered court-ordered psychoanalysis, where he was found to be "a prestige‐seeker, a liar, and an unstable and criminal psychopath with a hysterical character." Anyway, now he goes on TV and tells people how much smarter he is than the experts.

It's gotten traction

It's a phenomenon that puts measles back in kids and keeps cult leaders in fresh white Nikes: Repeat stuff loudly enough and eventually, somebody's going to believe you. Sometimes, that person is going to be someone in a position of power. For example, in 2017, vice chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Dana Rohrabacher asked a panel of NASA scientists whether there were aliens living on Mars a few thousand years ago, which is a theory "Ancient Aliens" has bumped against more than once. The long answer: No.

And it gets way weirder. You might remember John Podesta as the chief of staff to Bill Clinton and counselor to Barack Obama. For a change of pace, he later set up shop under a different spotlight, as a guest on 2018's season premiere of "Ancient Aliens." The subject of the episode? Hillary Clinton, against all odds, lost the presidency because of ... aliens. The show suggested she lost because of aliens.

As with all great documentaries, there's a video game adaptation

Remember growing up watching "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood?" How the joy of each day ended in the sting of disappointment, when you'd realize that there was no video game tie-in to the part where Fred went to the factory to learn how bread was made? "Ancient Aliens" would never hurt you like that monster Fred Rogers did. They love you just the way you are. And that, presumably along with the burgeoning microtransaction market, is why they made a mobile game cleverly titled "Ancient Aliens: The Game."

In the game, you play as a human tasked by aliens with advancing humanity. The aliens' homeworld is in desperate need of gold, so they hustle on over to Earth and manipulate humanity into becoming their workforce. If that sounds like the plot of "Battlefield: Earth," it's only because you watched "Battlefield: Earth." It would be irresponsible at this juncture not to remind you that this whole thing came out of the History Channel.

Get ready to learn some Latin

The entire show revolves around a logical fallacy so old that it has a Latin name: argumentum ad ignorantiam, meaning "argument from ignorance" (via Lander University). Basically, it means, "you can't prove it wasn't x, so it's gotta be x," with "x" in this case being "aliens." Here's an example of this argument in practice: Who made the shirt that you're wearing? You've got a pretty good idea it was somebody in a far-off sweatshop, but you can't prove that. When it comes right down to it, you could never find, with definitive proof, the exact person who sewed that together for you. And since you can't prove otherwise, it was probably Gary Busey.

It's true that we don't know how the pyramids were built, or exactly how they made the Nazca lines. It's even true that some original theories about how these wonders came to be have been disproven in the past. And yes, Sherlock Holmes said that once you have eliminated the possible, whatever remains, however unlikely, must be true, but he also smoked a lot of cocaine.

It might seem unlikely, but one of the greatest detractors of the premise of "Ancient Aliens" was Gene Roddenberry, the guy who thought up "Star Trek." He said, "Ancient astronauts didn't build the pyramids. Human beings built the pyramids, because they're clever and they work hard."

Such a huge following led to the creation of AlienCon

After 19 seasons and 230 episodes, "Ancient Aliens" has been a massive success for the History channel. But in 2016, the series creators wanted to see if fans who consistently tuned in to watch were devoted enough to attend a live event, AlienCon. The answer turned out to be a resounding yes, as the ancient astronaut believers showed up in the thousands, with as many as 50,000 people attending the events held in different cities each year, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

In 2020, when much of the world shut down, AlienCon was no exception; however, the popular event finally returned in 2023. Jill Tully, the vice president of consumer enterprises at A+E Networks, told Forbes, "It is exciting to be back in person this year – our first live AlienCon since the pandemic – with such an impressive roster of distinguished contributors discussing our widest scope of topics ever. From astrophysicists and professors to investigative journalists to former UAP task force leaders, the deep bench of expertise is astounding, as well as the sheer amount of programming – over 50 hours!"

Action Bronson got high and traveled the stars with Ancient Aliens

In 2016, the bizarre and comical show "Traveling the Stars: Action Bronson and Friends Watch Ancient Aliens" premiered, which had the simple premise of rapper Action Bronson smoking weed while watching the pseudoscience documentary series. When talking with Vice, producer Hannah Gregg highlighted their unique approach and said, "I don't think you get to see that many shows where somebody walks on set, and we literally will not tell them what they're supposed to do. You're watching them authentically figure out what the f*** is going on."

Somewhat surprisingly, the show was renewed for a second season in 2019, even though Bronson got into a brief, yet very heated Twitter feud with the network the year before. After Viceland said he was similar to the controversial chef, Salt Bae, the rapper posted, "You weirdo motherf****** are lucky to have ever been in my presence. F*** you and all your bulls***. I'll take my talents elsewhere because you sure don't appreciate what I've done for you." Regardless of the severity of the problem, the two parties must have reached a reconciliation, for in the Viceland press release announcing the new season, the network president highly praised the artist with no hint of any bad blood (via HipHopDX).

Expect an Ancient Aliens movie in the future

In 2022, many "Ancient Aliens" fans received the exciting news that the major movie studio, Legendary, had begun the process of making an adaptation of the popular series for the big screen. The adventure film will feature artifacts and ancient sites critical to the show, but as a dramatic story, not the standard documentary style seen on the History Channel.

Little else has been revealed about the upcoming project, except that Josh Heald is set to direct and will also serve as a producer, alongside the other members of the collaborative team behind "Cobra Kai," Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, says The Hollywood Reporter. The scriptwriter, Craig Titley, has even more experience with the screenplays for the hit comedy, "Cheaper by the Dozen," and the mythology action flick, "Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief," as two of his major accomplishments.

The narrator is a Hollywood veteran

While watching "Ancient Aliens," you might be wondering why the voice of the narrator sounds familiar. but struggle to pinpoint who it is. And you probably have heard it before, since Robert Clotworthy has starred in nearly 200 TV series, films, and video games, with acting gigs for the small screen stretching all the way back to the early 1970s.

Although the actor has worked consistently almost every single year since then, he is rarely a star of any of these projects, and does not seem to mind at all. In an interview with jitZul, Clotworthy explained, "I have worked on camera in dozens of TV shows and films. Retaining your anonymity is great. We get the respect amongst our peers but don't have to deal with the glare of the spotlight. The people we want to know who we are know us. Would you even recognize Nancy Cartwright (Bart Simpson) if you were sitting next to her in a restaurant?"

Fans of the massively popular "StarCraft" video games may not be able to recognize Clotworthy in person, however, they are likely to know his voice as the main character, Jim Raynor. Others might know him from his multiple appearances in "The Young and the Restless" as Judge Russell Jennings, and he narrated nearly as many times for "The Curse of Oak Island" as he has for the alien astronaut docuseries. When asked how he prepares for such diverse work, he replied, "The internet is critical, all the information you need is out there."