By Geoffrey Maingart
Pasadena, CA(Hollywood Today)1/17/13/–The Public Broadcasting System survived the election and this new season will bring some truly extraordinary documentaries, dramas, musical events and educational shows over the year. The PBS Press Tour at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena on Jan 14th and 15th was a beautifully organized event introducing the direction of PBS and many of the stars, producers and directors to the members of the Television Critics Association. From Downton Abbey, Sherlock to celebrities Mel Brooks, Philip Roth and Jeremy Irons and singers Audra McDonald and Christine Ebersole the press were given the opportunity to meet and question many of the artists and producers of this year’s brilliant program.
President of PBS, Paula Kerger has developed new digital partnerships with many companies including iTunes, YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and Comcast On Demand that has made the PBS programing accessible across multiple platforms and a global audience. That and truly innovative programing have brought PBS to the forefront of the television medium. If there is one organization that should have the support of everyone including government, it is certainly PBS. It is television at it’s very best.
Here are the shows to look forward to in the coming season. “Constitution” hosted by Peter Segal and directed by Stephen Ives will give us a new insight into our own history on a trip across our country while explaining how this historical document holds our union together and how historical events have defined our nation. The series will premier on May 7th.
Another new series premiering on the 23rd of this month, Nova: Rise of the Drones, produced and directed by Peter Yost will detail the new technologies used in the making of these extraordinary aircraft and the changes they are making in defense and the new military. Maybe we might be heading for a time of “The Terminator” and we can see through this documentary just how much has been accomplished in this field.
For those who remember the story of the “Central Park Five,” a sad tale of 5 black and Latino teenagers wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in Central Park, NY, this riveting documentary chronicles the Jogger case and that time in a stark telling of the story. Even Donald Trump was an embarrassment on the bandwagon that destroyed the lives of these kids and robbed them of their childhood. The New York City police and government are still fighting against the individuals in an effort to avoid responsibility through lies and collusion. This will premiere on April 16th and it was a privilege to hear from the filmmakers Ken and Sarah Burns (who followed this case for 10 years) and one of the subjects Raymond Santana at the gathering. All should watch this story about human dignity and hope that it cannot repeat itself.
The American Masters series this year will be very special with Mel Brooks in Make a Noise and Philip Roth: Unmasked. Mr. Brooks told us many stories of his career with his usual fabulous humor. We had a chance to ask and learn about the making of his many delightful films and his collaborations with some of the legends of comedy through the years. He is probably the most honored and awarded entertainers of all time and has never authorized a biography, so this show premiering on May 20th will be historical. One could write a whole article about this segment of the event. Philip Roth joined us by satellite from his home and told us so much about his life, a New York life, and history and struggle writing many of the greatest novels of the century. The Pulitzer Prize winning author, celebrating his 80th birthday (hard to believe) was fascinating to listen to as he spoke about the powerful 1960’s in America and how time could be running out for this, making this biography an important event for all of the readers of his books over the last century. He is an amazing personality to listen to and for all of us the opportunity to talk with him even by satellite was an honor to say the least. The show will premiere on March 29th.
Two more shows to look forward to are “American Experience: Henry Ford and of course “Live From Lincoln Center.” Sarah Colt, writer/producer/director of the Ford has put together a documentary of the most influential innovator of the 20th century. He brought us the assembly line and made transportation universal. We get to know him from his very beginning and see later how without him the world could be a very different place. This show will air on January 29th.
Audra McDonald, the 5x Tony winning singer will host the Lincoln Center series. She performed for us at the seminar and there are not words to describe the magnificence of this wonderful voice. Elizabeth Scott, executive in charge could not have chosen a more perfect artist to host this series. The series will of course include the New York Philharmonic and feature Marvin Hamlisch who sadly just recently passed.
Tuesday at the press conference gave us a chance to meet and hear from some amazing shows scheduled for this year. First was the story: Kind Hearted Woman about Robin Charboneau, a 32 year old divorced single mother and Oglala Sioux woman living on N. Dakota’s Spirit Lake reservation. This was a very moving and emotional moment at the conference as Ms. Charboneau detailed the collaboration with filmmaker David Sutherland and the hardships of her life and journey of discovery. Thanks to Frontline and Independent Lens for producing this amazing documentary. This premieres on the 1st and 2nd of April.
A wonderful dramatization of the “Mr. Selfridge” is premiering on the 31st of March until 19th of May. Jeremy Piven, actor and producer as well as actors Frances O’Connor, Zoe Tapper and producers Andrew Davies and Rebecca Eaton were there to detail the series about the famous and flamboyant American founder of the great London department store that changed modern shopping. The location is brilliantly recreated for the series and we are transported back to a time of magnificent imagery. It is great to see Piven as an American in London. It is an amazing tale of a man who made it to the top and lost everything in the end.
Certainly a highlight of the conference was the chance to hear Jeremy Irons speak about the back-stories in the new series, Shakespeare Uncovered. This series begins airing on the 25th of January with 6 episodes scheduled and many celebrated hosts including Irons. As he explained, Shakespeare still works because he wrote of human conditions and relationships that still resonate today. The author probably learned of the battles from the history books of the time that provided much of his source material. There were humorous moments as Mr. Irons spoke of the attitudes of the French as compared with the English. The French would sell their captured nobles back to the English. The English on the other hand were not so kind. He also spoke of the advantages of film over the theater to tell the story. The stage is still 2 dimensional as compared with the camera that can closely bring the audience into the actor’s thoughts. He did mention one interesting thought in that there are basically eight stories in the world and everything else is just the retelling of one or the other. Shakespeare created showbiz and gave the people the real news not censored by the government.
Maker: Women Who Make America will premiere on February 26th. The panel for this conference was extraordinary and included Gloria Steinem, Marlo Thomas, Aileen Hernandez and filmmaker Barak Goodman, executive producers Betsey West and Dyllan MaGee. Also on stage was an extraordinary woman, Barbara Burns, one of the first women coal miners who detailed her fight for equality. The series will also speak of the accomplishments of Hilary Clinton, Gloria Steinem, Ellen DeGeneres, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters and Katie Couric. The stories will document the fight for equality with over 200 interviews.
Independent Lens will be bringing the films “The Power Broker: Whitney Young’s Fight for civil Rights” and “the House I Live In” about the hijacking of the war on drugs. The first is powerfully narrated by Alfre Woodard and will premiere on February 18th about this great and controversial leader of the civil rights movement. The second film is about the profit making private prison system and complete failure of the war on drugs originally instituted by Nixon, hijacked by the powers that be and destroyer of more lives than many of our wars while making many people very rich. Directed by Eugene Jarecki, this film has made the list of the top 15 documentaries of 2013.
International star and virtuoso ukulele player, Jake Shimabukuro performed unbelievably and spoke to us about the instrument. As a concert solo violinist myself, it was a revelation to here this talent perform on a level of Paganini. What was mostly known as the instrument of Don Ho and Tiny Tim has been transformed into a virtuoso string instrument that can cross musical genres from classical to jazz and rock. Director Tadashi Nakamura takes us on a journey through the life of the great musician. Look forward to the airing of this special on May 10th. As a musician, I cannot recommend this show highly enough. You will also get an insight into Japanese culture and his life in Hawaii.
An unusual and unique documentary is American Promise. Joe Bewster and Michele Stephenson (film makers), 2 middle class African American parents film their family and 2 sons and a best friend over the course of 12 years including their life at one of the prestigious private schools in the country. We watch the boys grow up and struggle with race, class and opportunity. This is also a Sundance 2013 feature.
Last on the press conference was a chat with the members of the cast of Call the Midwife premiering for the 2nd season beginning Sundays from March 31st. The show details the period in London’s East End during the 1950’s and is based on the best-selling memoirs of the late Jennifer Worth. The show is about Poplar’s community of midwives and nursing nuns and is brilliantly played by Pam Ferris, Helen George, Pippa Harris and Jessica Raine who were here with us at the conference. It is a story of births, babies and romance at a time very different from today. This is a great historical drama.
Other specials to look forward to will be a documentary about Stephen Hawking, a unique documentary, 180 Days in High School, The Roosevelt’s, an Intimate History and Space Shuttle Columbia, a mission of hope about the Columbia team. Also, coming will be “Guts” about our never thought of particulars and another, 10 Buildings that Changed America including our own Disney Concert Hall.
Besides all of the wonderful children’s programing we can look forward to one of the most extraordinary seasons from the incredible talent pool of PBS.