Cable news networks would not allow for Teddy Roosevelt or Franklin Delano Roosevelt to become POTUS today, the creators of PBS’ new Roosevelt family documentary suggested at TCA today. Teddy was too eccentric, and FDR was stricken with polio.
“I’m not sure they could have been president now,” Geoffrey Ward, an authority on FDR and longtime Ken Burns collaborator, told TV critics at Summer Press Tour, where they’d come to plug The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. “TR was very eccentric, and FDR was physically helpless, and in the modern world in which everything is fair game. … I think TV cameras would compete with each other to see who could get the most ‘helpless’ footage of FDR.” Ward said he doubted the U.S. will ever see another physically challenged president.
FDR was maybe the most press-accessible president, holding nearly 1,000 news conferences during his White House tenure, Burns and Ward said. The press “understood” they were not to write about FDR’s polio or vie for the “worst-looking Roosevelt” shot and wrote “more substantive pieces” than they might have otherwise, the producers said.
Asked why, then, they had scoured various sources to find footage of Roosevelt struggling with his polio-stricken limbs – Burns mentions spending a great deal of money after the documentary was wrapped after discovering four seconds of footage of FDR struggling to get off a train in Bismarck, ND — Burns responded, “We’ve got an obligation to do that,” because it illustrates what an effort it was for FDR to get through a day and speaks to his character. Read More »
“I’m a pig in shit,” Ken Burns said of his quantity of documentary films in the pipeline. First up: The Address is extremely short by Burns’ standards – under two hours long. It follows a school in Vermont that has students each year memorize the Gettysburg Address, delivered by President Lincoln on November 19, 1863 at the dedication of a cemetery on the site of the bloodiest battle ever fought on U.S. soil. It was, Burns noted, not universally embraced at the time – a Chicago newspaper’s review said, “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.” The Address airs April 15 at 9 PM on PBS. Read More »
PBS has announced the premiere date of the Britcom Vicious, starring Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi as a gay couple who have been together nearly half a century. The six-part series, which PBS acquired from Shine International in October, will air on Sundays and premiere July 6 at 10:30 PM. Meanwhile, Jacobi’s drama Last Tango In Halifax has been ordered for a second season, returning June 29, PBS chief Paula Kerger announced this morning at TCA. Also unveiled: Ken Burns is working on a a documentary series about country music — though it won’t air until 2018, Kerger said this morning. Country Music will follow its evolution of over the course of the 20th century as it “eventually emerged to become America’s music,” PBS claimed in its announcement.
And, PBS will never, ever air Downton Abbey seasons closer to its UK run, Kerger indicated — hopefully putting a stake in that debate for press tours ever after. Kerger cited this month’s Season 4 debut audience – 10.2 million viewers, which was a 22% jump compared to the Season 3 opener (7.9 million), which itself had been a leap from the series Season 2 launch crowd of 4.2 mil. Downton is PBS’ highest rated drama ever. ”It’s become a bit of tradition after the holidays to come together to watch Downton,” Kerger said happily. “The audience build over the years…argues to keep the January time frame,” she said. And, of course, a fall launch coinciding with the UK’s Downton season would put it in the teeth of the commercial broadcast network’s fall-season rollout, which, she noted, TV critics in the room had criticized PBS for doing in the past. Not to mention that the series’ UK broadcaster determines its debut date not terribly long before it actually happens — no weeks and weeks of promotions, as is the norm in the U.S. PBS cannot upstage the show in the UK. Read More »
New York City will not be able to look at footage and other material from Ken Burns’ The Central Park Five documentary, a federal judge ruled today. U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis ruled in favor of Burns’ Florentine Films’ November 2012 motion to quash the city’s efforts to see outtakes, notes and more from the film. “Florentine has established entitlement to the reporter’s privilege” said the judge Tuesday in his 15-page order (read it here) “Defendants have failed to overcome the reporter’s privilege by making a showing that the information they seek pertains to a significant issue and is unavailable from alternative sources,” he added. Burns and fellow filmmakers David McMahon and Sarah Burns’ documentary centers on the wrongful conviction of five youths in 1989 for the heavily reported brutal rape of a jogger in the NYC park. Upon their release, the now-grown men filed a $50 million lawsuit against the city. On October 2nd of last year, the City of New York issued subpoenas against Florentine in an effort to see whether there is material or documentation from the making of the film that could exonerate their officials’ handling of the initial case. “While journalistic privilege under the law is very important, we firmly believe it did not apply here. This film is a one-sided advocacy … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: HBO has set Ides Of March screenwriter and playwright Beau Willimon to write Jack Johnson, a miniseries about the life of the first African-American world heavyweight champion. The mini teams Playtone partners Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman and historian and documentary director Ken Burns. To be told in four to six parts, the mini is based on the Geoffrey C. Ward book Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise And Fall Of Jack Johnson, which Burns previously adapted into the Emmy-winning PBS documentary of the same name. Burns is aboard to direct. Hanks and Goetzman are exec producers, and Burns is too. Willimon is co-exec producer.
In the early 20th Century, Johnson was the class of the heavyweight division, a proud man of color who paid a high price for it. The main problem: he twice married white women and did not hide it or the fact that he liked to live well. He surprised both whites and blacks when he was given a title shot by Canadian fighter Tommy Burns and beat him. He further shook up the white status quo by knocking out ex-champ James J. Jeffries, who’d refused to fight Johnson while he held the belt but came out of retirement to be touted by the press and racist whites as the “Great White Hope.” In the aftermath of Jeffries’ defeat, celebrations by African-Americans led … Read More »
Over a month after the City of New York issued a subpoena against Ken Burns’ upcoming Central Park Five documentary, the filmmaker’s lawyers are formally seeking to quash the city’s efforts. “The City defendants’ sweeping subpoena for nearly all of the video and audio recordings gathered by Florentine Films in its research for the documentary film The Central Park Five is substantially overbroad, premature and fails to overcome the qualified reporter’s privilege that applies to these unpublished, non-confidential newsgathering materials,” said the 27-page memorandum (read it here) filed last week. Burns and fellow filmmakers David McMahon and Sarah Burns’ documentary centers on the wrongful conviction of five youths in 1989 for the heavily reported brutal rape of a jogger in the NYC park. Upon their release, the now-grown men filed a $50 million lawsuit against the city. IFC Films is releasing Central Park Five theatrically on November 23, and the docu will air on PBS early next year; the legal action will not impact distribution plans. Read More »
The City of New York issued subpoenas yesterday to Florentine Films to look at footage and other material from the company’s The Central Park Five documentary. Today filmmakers Ken Burns, David McMahon and Sarah Burns firmly said No. The documentary is about the wrongful conviction of five youths in 1989 for a brutal rape. Upon their release, the men filed a $50 million lawsuit against the city. NYC wants to see if there is material or documentation from the making of the film that could exonerate their officials’ actions handling of the initial case back in the late 80s. The film has played at numerous festivals such as Telluride and Toronto. Sundance Select has picked up The Central Park Five for theatrical release. The film is also scheduled to air on PBS. Read the filmmakers’ statement in full below:
“We have long expected the subpoena,” said Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon, the film’s directors. “For the last ten years the City has refused to settle the civil rights lawsuit brought by these young men. This strikes us as just another effort to delay and deny closure and justice to these five men, each of whom was cleared of guilt even though they served out their full and unjustified terms.
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Diane Haithman contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
When documentarian Ken Burns speaks, everything sounds like poetry. At today’s TCA panel on his latest PBS documentary The Dust Bowl, Burns didn’t say that some of the survivors of the devastating 1930s dust storms that were interviewed for the documentary have died. He said: “We have already lost four of them to the merciless passage of time.” The documentary will air in two episodes November 18-19.
Related: TCA: PBS Sets Ken Burns’ ‘The Roosevelts’ & Pair Of Cuban Missile Crisis Specials
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Diane Haithman contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
PBS is announcing today that The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, a new seven-part documentary series by Ken Burns, will air in 2014. Burns is slated to appear at TCA later in PBS’ 2-day session to discuss his previously-announced documentary The Dust Bowl, airing in November.
Related: PBS’ Ken Burns ‘The Dust Bowl’ Documentary Seen As “A Cautionary Tale”
The network also has two new special programs about the Cuban missile crisis that took place 50 years ago: Cuban Missile Crisis – Three Men Go to War and Secrets of the Dead: The Man Who Saved the World, both to air Oct. 23. “Three Men” explores the roles of President John F. Kennedy, Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev and Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Secrets of the Dead tells the story of Vasili Karpov, the man who refused to fire the nuclear missile during the standoff between Russia, the U.S. and Cuba. Most of the action takes place inside a submarine that is running out of air.
Related: ‘Downton Abbey’ Trailer Teases Plot Twists, Maggie Smith & Shirley MacLaine
PBS is playing to its strengths — British dramas, Ken Burns documentaries and plenty of political insight — with its just-announced fall schedule. As is custom with the public broadcaster, the emphasis is on Sunday night programming. With the success of Season 2 of Downton Abbey still fresh, PBS will air the UK hit miniseries Call The Midwife, debuting Sunday, September 30. Following Call The Midwife for most of the run is Season 2 of the new Upstairs Downstairs, airing Sundays Oct. 7 to Nov. 11. The latest documentary from Ken Burns, The Dust Bowl, airs Sunday November 18 and Monday November 19. In addition, PBS will repeat its well-received American Masters documentary on Dust Bowl folk hero Woody Guthrie on Thursday, November 16. With the political season heating up, PBS is ramping up its election coverage, once again airing “The Choice,” a politics-focused edition of the long-running Frontline on Tuesday, October 9. The public broadcaster will also air three Presidential debates and one Vice Presidential debate when they’re held in the fall. Read More »
The U.S. Public Broadcasting Service, long an importer of British fare, will attempt to return the favor starting Tuesday with the launch of PBS UK, the Wall Street Journal reports. The lineup includes U.S. flagship shows PBS News Hour and Frontline; the science series Nova; the U.S. version of Antiques Roadshow (format imported from Britain); and documentaries from director Ken Burns, whose Prohibition (pictured) will air on Day 1. It’s PBS’ first major foreign foray since the service was founded more than 40 years ago. PBS UK will air on Britain’s two biggest pay-TV platforms, British Sky Broadcasting and Virgin Media. It will be available to about 14 million viewers, roughly half the country’s TV audience. PBS is late to the party because it doesn’t have a lot of money. U.S. commercial networks such as MTV, Nickelodeon, Discovery and CBS have been in the UK for years. “The top priority is to get our content to an audience that I know is interested in the work we produce,” said PBS chief executive Paula Kerger. Read More »
Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s coverage of TCA.
The panel session closing out PBS’ two-day rollout at TCA — for Ken Burns’ latest historical overview, Prohibition — was notably both preceded by a beer-and-wine dinner and followed by a cocktail party. The elfin but always eloquent Burns admitted during the session that he got into the spirit of the TCA event by having his first drink in “quite some time.” But he suffered no effects from his alcohol when asked his thoughts on the HBO series Boardwalk Empire that deals fictitiously with the same subject matter as his documentary that’s scheduled to premiere on Oct. 2, 3 and 4. And it turns out he’s a fan of the drama that’s produced in part by Martin Scorsese. “(HBO) has another huge hit on their hands in the mode of The Sopranos,” Burns said, “and they’re not that dissimilar. Americans always love to watch people who get to kill people who piss them off…and women who take their clothes off at the drop of a hat. They’ve done their homework. (The show) is very complex and nuanced…We’re always amazed when we’ve done films that fit into the zeitgeist of the moment.” Read More »
Ken Burns’ latest documentary Prohibition will kick off PBS’ fall season Oct. 2-4, the pubcaster announced today in unveiling its slate of programming, which will include the first-ever PBS Arts Fall Festival that will run into December. Prohibition, which will tell the tales behind the rise and fall of the 18th Amendment outlawing alcohol in America, is from Burns and collaborator Lynn Novick and features the voices of Tom Hanks, Jeremy Irons, Paul Giamatti, Oliver Platt, John Lithgow, Samuel L. Jackson, Patricia Clarkson, Adam Arkin, Sam Waterston, Josh Lucas and others, with narration by Peter Coyote.
The Fall Festival initiative offers full-length performances, artist and performer profiles, behind-the-scenes documentaries and mini-films about the art scenes in different cities nationwide. It kicks off Friday, Oct. 14 and will air Fridays through December with all-new broadcasts of classic and contemporary performances including Women Who Rock, inspired by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s exhibit; Give Me The Banjo, narrated by Steve Martin, a banjoist himself, exploring the roots of American music; and Great Performances: The Little Mermaid From San Francisco Ballet.
Also getting a launch date is the four-part NOVA miniseries The Fabric of the Cosmos, which will run Wednesdays in November beginning Nov. 2. NOVA and Nature will be paired on Wednesdays in the fall.
Ken Burns and partner Lynn Novick are producing and directing a documentary film on the Vietnam War, completing a war trilogy that includes their previous PBS efforts The Civil War (1990) and the World War II doc The War (2007). Vietnam will run 10 to 12 hours and is set for broadcast in 2016. From the release: “It will focus primarily on the human experience of the conflict, using eyewitness testimonies of so-called ‘ordinary’ people –- Americans as well as Vietnamese –- whose lives were touched by the war. Parallel to the unfolding military narrative, the series will also tell the story of the millions of American citizens who became deeply opposed to it, taking to the streets in some of the largest protest demonstrations the nation has seen.” As in the previous two films, Geoffrey C. Ward is the writer.
PBS is airing The Civil War from April 3-7 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War.