And Monday night, area viewers will have the chance to feed that appetite with two hours of a carefully researched documentary about the war from the husband-and-wife team of Lawrence Hott and Diane Garey.
But as nice as it is to have a large, hungry, Mid-Atlantic audience for the subject, that doesn't make the task of bringing to life on television a sprawling conflict that happened two centuries any easier, says co-producer and director Hott.
And it's even tougher when you have a budget of less than $1 million for two hours and you are forced to compete with prime-time football and new fall shows for the attention of the media-saturated American TV audience of today. The average cost of an hour of prime-time network television is about $3.5 million.
"There were two big challenges," Hott says. "How do you present the perspectives of the four combatants, and then, what do you show? We're filmmakers, and we want visual variety in the film. And we want verisimilitude. It's a documentary, so it should be true to reality."
But he and Garey were extremely limited in what visuals were available. When Ken Burns made "The Civil War," for example, at least he had photographs with which to work.
"This is 27 years before the invention of photography, 81 years before the invention of motion pictures," says Hott, who was once part of Burns' Florentine Films production company and is still in partnership with it. "And so, we decided we had to rely on re-enactments. But re-enactments are frequently cringe-worthy. They can be embarrassing,"
Hoping to avoid that, he and Garey made an early decision to spend whatever they had on getting the re-enactments right.
"We actually moved great portions of the budget that we were going to use for things like aerials and travel to doing re-enactments, because we wanted that to show up on the screen," Hott says.
"We basically went Hollywood without a Hollywood budget," the Emmy and Peabody Award winner explains. "We couldn't afford to show heads being blown up and bullets ripping through bodies. But what we could afford is smoke and muskets and musket fire and shooting in the evening — even after dark. In fact, some of my favorite shots in the film are of the tough, dirty-looking faces of the men, which we basically did by shining flashlights in their faces."
Hott and Garey use re-enactors as well I have ever seen them used. And I would urge anyone who categorically rejects re-enactments, a hotly contested issue for folks who take their history seriously, to check out the deft use of them in "The War of 1812." Hott has thought long and hard about the matter.
"I want to tell you a revelation I had about this," says Hott, who has been making documentaries since leaving the practice of law to join Florentine Films in 1978. "I've used a lot of photographs and motion pictures in the 33 years I've been doing this. I've looked at every archive that's ever been made. And, you know, there's a famous film expression that says, 'Every cut is a lie.' But also, every archive is a lie."
The "every cut" expression is a reminder to those who accept the images onscreen as reality or truth that directors and editors are constantly making decisions about what part of a scene gets filmed and shown — and what gets left out or cut. In other words, they are continually intruding on the reality that finally finds it way onto the screen.
Hott, who has produced 24 films for broadcast on PBS, believes the gap between the reality of the War of 1812 and what can be found in archives is even greater.
"None of the images about the War of 1812 are contemporaneous," he says. "Nobody was sitting out on the battlefield drawing images while the battle was happening. In fact, most of the images you see in the film that are paintings or engravings were made 80 or 90 years later."
And even if there had been photographs of the warfare, how much could those be trusted in rendering an accurate representation of the war in a documentary made today, he asks rhetorically.
"Just imagine that there was a photograph that was taken at a battlefield or someone did a contemporaneous drawing," he adds. "OK, what does the filmmaker of today do? The filmmaker homes in on a part of it. You know, you pan across something or you concentrate on one part of it or something."
In other words, the two-time Academy Award nominee says, you're choosing your frame.