The new History series, “How the States Got Their Shapes,” which debuts May 3, hones in on Georgia in its very first anecdote about how water affects borders.
Brian Unger, who describes himself as a “journeyman” in Hollywood with credits from “The Daily Show” to “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” hosts the show. “I’m the investigator,” he said. “I’m a bit of a a wisecracker.”
About 18 months ago, History aired a two-hour special under the same name. It did so well, History commissioned the ten-episode first season.
Each episode focuses on a particular theme, with stories about how their borders ended up being the way they are and what the ramifications are. Unger visited 30 states and the District of Columbia over seven months. “There are all these hidden stories on our map,” he said. “I think the show’s subtext is politics and the randomness of the map. That’s interesting to me.”
The first episode focuses on water wars.
“Water is not just a line on a map or a driving hazard,” Unger said on the show. “These days, it’s a valuable commodity.” He spends time at Patrick’s Pub & Grill, which is on the border of Copper Hill, Tenn. and McCaysville, GA. Literally, the border cuts through the building. The “wet” part, the bar and restaurant, is actually in Tennessee, which allows liquor. The bathrooms? On the Georgia side, where it’s a “dry” county.
He noted that the border was actually drawn incorrectly but is actually off by a mile and the pizza place would be part of Georgia. “Georgia,” he narrates, ” wants the extra 51 square miles back. Tennessee has turned a deaf ear.”
But Atlanta needs water, he said, calling us a “very big, very thirsty city,” the first one that was not built on a waterway. Rather, it was a railway hub. And though the city gets plenty of rain each year, much of it runs into creeks and storm drains, not big bodies of water. In an interview, he noted, “Atlanta is kind of the Vegas of the South. It’s too big!”
The show doesn’t get into the nitty-gritty details, but it doesn’t appear borders will be changing any time soon. Local attorney Brad Carver is shown hitting a University of Georgia golf ball into Lake Nickajack in Tennessee from the Georgia border. Why? The show needed a visual!
Unger thinks the border dispute will only be resolved in the courts or Congress. “I don’t see any way around Georgia trying to tap the Tennessee River,” he said.
He also acknowledged that last week’s tornadoes evoked a memory from last fall when he taped the show near the Tennessee/Georgia border.
“I grew up in Ohio. I know when the sky blackens, I know what that means. When it starts to turn green and yellow, I know what that means. We were standing down there shooting. We had done all the interviews and just getting B roll when the sky turned black. I looked around and knew instinctively we were in trouble. The crew had kind of scattered. There were people on their cel phones talking with their wives and kids. We were wrapping up for the day. I made a bee-line to the nearest house. I knocked on the front door. I said, ‘I just want you to know. We’re all coming into your basement in 30 seconds if things get worse. Our radar is lit up with yellow. Just as we looked up, we saw these funnel clouds coming over the hill. I then demanded that everyone get into a ditch. We realized how close we were to a string of tornadoes.”
“How the States Got Their Shapes,” 10 p.m. on Tuesdays at History Channel