Beginning tonight, novelist Brad Meltzer gets another season — and a bigger budget — to explore the conflicting theories behind history's most perplexing mysteries.
The second season of Brad Meltzer's Decoded begins tonight on History Channel at 10 p.m., featuring the best-selling novelist and a team of experts who research and unravel historical mysteries that have grown into legends.
While the first season was limited to American history, this season looks at global history because the budget for the show has grown.
"In the first season, I wanted to do episodes about Adolf Hitler, but History said, you're an unproven TV show, so we don't have budget to send cast and crew all over Germany," Meltzer told Newsarama. "But now that we're in our second season, we have the budget.
"So for the first time, Decoded is going to Europe, and we get to do Adolf Hitler and the Spear of Destiny," Meltzer said. "We get to do the Vatican. We get to do things that we couldn't afford to tackle during the first season. So Decoded now takes on a global scale."
The comment about the Spear of Destiny may sound familiar to comic book fans, and Meltzer admitted that his love of comics spawned that episode's subject.
"The Spear of Destiny episode is me trying to find out if the Justice Society stories could really exist," said Meltzer, who has written comic titles like Identity Crisis and Justice League of America. "In so many of the old World War II stories from DC, Hitler was going after the Spear of Destiny and the Justice Society was always trying to stop him.
"I always thought the Spear of Destiny comic story was made up, but it has a foot in 100 percent reality," he said. "The Spear was supposedly the one that pierced Christ's side. Constantine wanted it because it supposedly gave him power, and the pope supposedly had it and it gave him power. Whether you believe this thing has magic powers or not, the true fact is that Adolf Hitler wanted it. And if Adolf Hitler wants this thing, I want to know what it is."
This season will also see Meltzer joining his team in the field for an episode -- something viewers haven't seen before.
"Everyone says, 'Brad, why don't you go out in the field?' There are two reasons: One, I physically don't have the time. I'm writing my novels and always trying to find some way to come back in comic books, and I don't have the time to spend a month and travel around Europe," he said. "But the other part of it is that I never want to undercut the team. I don't think I'm going to get anything out of this better than they can. I picked the team because I trust them and I know they're going to do a great job."
But for one of the upcoming shows, there was a personal source that Meltzer wanted to visit himself. "Going in the field made sense because it was someone I had a personal connection with," he said, refusing any further elaboration to keep the surprise for the show.
While it's always fun to follow conspiracy theories about history, Meltzer said one of the things that makes Decoded stand out is that it looks at all sides of a mystery. The author said viewers have responded positively to that approach.
"I never want to go out and yell, 'Freemason!' and the word "consipracy!' and say, 'They're trying to eat your babies!' I never want to be part of a show where we just fear-monger," he said.
"I think what happened in the first season was that, when someone crazy came on the air, we gave that crazy person's point of view, but we also gave the other point of view," he said. "And we even came out and said, 'This looks a little crazy to me, and this person looks a little more believable to me.' But we always put both sides out there for people to hear. And I think people appreciate that trust. What I wanted to do with the show is prove that the scariest story you can ever tell is the true story."
The idea for the series spins out of Meltzer novels like Book of Fate and The Inner Circle, which are fictional, yet rely upon historical facts and mysteries for their plot elements.
"When I do research for my novels, I just have stories that I want to use, but I can't make them work in a novel," he said. "I've been collecting these stories over time. Now, we get to use them — not in fiction, but in real life."
Meltzer's been surprised at how many of the show's fans watch episodes with their kids. "I never expected that," he said. "But I do remember sitting in my history class when I was in 10th grade. And my history teacher put on a conspiracy documentary about JFK's assassination. It was just a real, honest-to-God documentary. It was the first time I'd ever heard about that. And I just remember my head exploding. It was like the foundations of my head were kicked. When you're younger and you see that very first story that maybe things aren't as you perceive them in your history books, it really does explode your head.
"What I love the most about what we do is that we get to explore history, and prove to people that it's not just a bunch of facts and dates that you memorize, but it's this living, breathing thing that's constantly being changed and rewritten and re-examined," Meltzer said. "It's this living creature. And I love that part."
Besides this week's premiere of Decoded, Meltzer's last novel, The Inner Circle comes out in paperback. The Inner Circle is about a young archivist who finds out that George Washington's secret spy ring still exists. He doesn't know who they're working for or what they're doing, but the greatest secret of the U.S. presidency is about to be revealed.
"We did an episode of Decoded on The Inner Circle last year, which was the most self-serving hour of television, because I got to plug the book and the show at the same time," Meltzer said with a laugh. "But a few years ago, I got a call from the Department of Homeland Security asking me if I could brainstorm different ways that terrorists could attack the United States. And my first thought was, if they're calling me, we have bigger problems than anybody thinks. But I was honored to be a part of it.
"I looked back and thought, why did they pick me? Why did they pick a regular, ordinary citizen when they have all these generals and military guys and amazing people who can look into this stuff? And it actually traced back to George Washington, who has his own secret spy ring," he said. "And I said to my guy in Homeland Security, 'Wouldn't it be cool for my next novel if they found out that George Washington's secret spy ring still exists to this very day?' And he said to me, 'What makes you think that it doesn't?' And right there, I knew I had the plot for the book."
Currently, Meltzer is finishing the first draft for his next book, Heroes for my Daughter, which is a follow up to his book, Heroes for my Son, as well as working on his next novel.
And while he said he'd love to write more comics, right now there are no plans for any — not because he doesn't want to do it.
"I have to find the time! It is my love," he said. "Everyone knows I love it. It's just a matter of finding time, and I have to finish the next novel. Trying to work on two books and the show, for right now, is just taking all the attention."
The first episode of Brad Meltzer's Decoded, titled "Fort Knox," airs tonight on the History Channel at 10 p.m. Eastern/9 p.m. Central.