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The shape of things -- from sea to shining sea

How the States Got Their Shapes

How the States Got Their Shapes

Ever wonder why New York State is shaped the way it is?

Get your inner map geek ready, because tomorrow, the History Channel is debuting its new series, "How the States Got Their Shapes," which investigates state borders and delves into the eccentricities of their jagged edges.

amNewYork spoke with host Brian Unger, one of the original "Daily Show" correspondents, about the series.

How did the show come about? [This production company] wanted to do a [show] on the book, "How the States Got Their Shapes," and they thought I'd be a good fit for it, which basically means I was a guy who didn't mind living in Hampton Inns all over the country for long period of times.

How is each episode organized? We thought we would ... take a theme and visit many regions of the country within one hour and hopscotch all around to keep people interested and to keep it moving. It was a seven-month journey. I would kind of just show up in a town and they would have to tell me which episode this was going in. [W]e would sometimes tell a story that fit into one episode and we'd travel 20 minutes away and then tell another story that went into a different episode. It was a very complicated matrix.

What did you learn about New York's borders? I only told one part of the New York story, which is: Why is Long Island the way it is? Why do Long Islanders talk the way they do? Why is there a Long Island accent? And why are there so many different kinds of accents around New York? So that goes into an episode about language. And ... it's essentially an island effect on the evolution of the accent. We got to talk to Sam Chwat, who's an accent coach, and he's really probably the most famous dialect teacher to actors, and he died about a month ago from cancer. And we are probably his last interview that he gave.

Where are you looking forward to visiting? Well, I really need to explore Hawaii, and I keep telling the company that. They just keep refusing to send me. I mean, someone needs to get to the bottom of how the Hawaiian Islands got their shape.  [laughs] And I'm that guy.

Have you discussed doing shows about other borders? I've already pitched "How Europe Got Its Shape." I think that we could do at least 10 seasons in Europe.  But yeah, we joked about going to other countries as well. But the thing is, I think we'll be pretty busy here for a while. Even when we just visit a state one time, we're only telling a tiny, tiny story in one small part of that state. And you're sort of ignoring the rest of the state.  So, yeah, I think we're going to be in the U.S. for a while.


On TV: "How the States Got Their Shapes" debuts tomorrow on the History Channel at 10 p.m.

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