"History in the present" is how historian-filmmaker Michael Wood (below) likes to characterize his projects.

"It's making contacts with the past in the living culture of today," Wood said. "So we make a lot of effort to go out into the real landscape."

For his latest project, "In Search of Myths and Heroes," Wood and his team traveled to 19 countries to focus on four legends. The first two-hour program features "The Queen of Sheba" and "Arthur: The Once and Future King." The second part, which airs next week, explores "Shangri-La" and "Jason and the Golden Fleece."

The programs are history, travel and adventure with Wood on the trail of some of history's greatest legends, said executive producer Leo Eaton.

"Myths and Heroes" uses movie clips and dramatic readings to set up the stories, and Wood sets out -- often amid gorgeous scenery -- to see where the legends began and whether they are based in fact.

"The style of in-depth journeys Michael does is very different from a bus tour where you get a lot of information," Eaton said. "Michael is saying, 'Stop here. Get out of the bus, walk into this village and see what I'm seeing.' "

For these programs, Wood traveled light, sometimes working only with a director who also did the filming. "There was no reconnaissance. We just did it," said Wood, who has made nearly 100 documentaries over 25 years -- including "In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great" and "Conquistadors," which have aired on PBS. In this series, "the power of the story in the culture was more important than historical fact," Wood said. "It's important to show how stories like these can take on a life of their own and become so important in the culture."

-- Judith S. Gillies


Wednesday 9 p.m. PBS