Monday, March 1, 2010

WDYTYA Debuts in America Friday March 5th

Four years ago, Lisa Kudrow was in Ireland filming P.S. I Love You when she saw the TV show Who Do You Think You Are? in which celebrities trace their ancestors.

Olympic hurdler Colin Jackson was tracing his family history back to Jamaica and Panama.

'Even though I'd never seen the show before, I was hooked,' she says.

'I watched more episodes and the stories were riveting. I wondered if we could do a show like this in the States.'

Lisa Kudrow

New friend: Lisa Kudrow discovered her Polish relatives and their tragic history and plans to take her husband and 11-year-old son to meet them

Her idea took off - next week, the U.S. begins screening its version, which promises to be as fascinating as the Bafta-nominated BBC series.

'When we started looking for celebrities, plenty were interested, but weren't sure they had an interesting background,' says Lisa, best-known as Phoebe Buffay in Friends.

'Sarah Jessica Parker was intrigued, but said: "Good luck - you won't find anything." '

Yet the programme not only discovered she had an ancestor who participated in the famed 19th-century California Gold Rush, but another was accused of witchcraft in the 1692 Salem witch trials.

Her husband Matthew Broderick, another of the show's subjects, found that his grandfather was a 22-year-old medic in World War I who had to tend to soldiers in the thick of the action. He was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart.

Broderick says: 'And I'd always thought of him as Joe the postman.'

Susan Sarandon learned her maternal grandmother had been pregnant and married by the time she was 13 and bigamy is hinted at, too.

But perhaps most astonishingly, Brooke Shields is descended from French royalty.

Having believed her family was descended from Italian aristocracy (one ancestor was the banker to the Vatican), she was stunned at being directly descended from Henry IV of France, with Louis XIV a cousin many generations removed.

Despite thinking she had an Italian heritage, when she was growing up, Brooke was always interested in French culture and studied French literature at university.

'She wondered if her lineage had some bearing on that,' says Lisa. 'It's those tiny, weird little connections to the past that make the show so interesting.'

Brooke also learned why her grandmother, Teresa, seemed so 'bitter, sad and afraid' and treated Brooke's mother, Teri, badly - researchers discovered Teresa had lost her own mother at the age of ten.

Having become the mother figure to her siblings, Teresa lost a brother in a drowning accident. The grief took its toll and Brooke's mother ended up running away.

Teresa's grievance towards her daughter may have been unfair, but Brooke now understands her grandmother better after piecing together her tragic life.

Lisa herself makes a journey to eastern Europe to uncover a story horribly familiar to Jewish families who lived through World War II.

You can read about it here:

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