“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.
TCA: Ken Burns’ 10-Year Plan Includes Roosevelts, Cancer, Jackie Robinson, Ernest Hemingway and Vietnam
TCA: PBS Chief Paula Kerger Announces ‘Vicious’ Premiere Date, Teases Ken Burns Country Music Docu, Talks ‘Downton Abbey’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
TCA: Ken Burns Thinks ‘Boardwalk’ Will Be “Huge Hit”: “Americans Love To Watch People Who Get To Kill People Who Piss Them Off”
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.”