After a video presentation that emphasized “Where the Arts Live,” PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger opened the day to discuss the direction of the network. The three priorities are news and public affairs, children’s programming, and the arts. Without citing examples, she stated a concern about other networks being lax in regards to their education programming.
She also revealed changes at the network. PBS will be creating a greater integration with their online resources and will be expanding their involvement with the Nielsen ratings, weekly not overnight numbers, to get a better understanding of their audience’s demographic. Bill Moyers will be leaving his weekly series to go back to creating specials and newsmagazine Now is ending.
Shakespeare and PBS have had a long history together and that relationship continues as Great Performances will soon air two of the Bard’s plays, both starring the recently knighted Sir Patrick Stewart, who previously appeared with each company on stage. Macbeth is transported from its Scottish setting to a fictional country where it becomes an allegory about war. The Royal Shakespeare Company performs Hamlet with David Tennant in the lead role and Stewart playing two parts, Claudius and the Ghost. Stewart talked about what an advantage it was working with the casts so many times and spending so much time with the material. There are minimal changes from the stage performances, although there had been a lot of cuts to Hamlet.
Stewart also reflected on being an actor. He previously played Claudius 30 years ago and thinks this is likely his last chance because of his character’s age. He is disappointed he never got the chance to play Hamlet, but hopes to play Falstaff in the future. He is glad that his work on Star Trek brings new fans to the theatre and recently felt so dejected by a popular British reality program he jokingly revealed he would have been happy dying at that moment.
Frontline: Digital Nation examines life on the net and in the future as the technology brings more choices and more changes into our lives. Media theorist Douglas Rushkoff is one of the correspondents for the piece and he has a great understanding of the subject. The program will premiere on February 2, which one television writer teased them about since it was going up against the season premiere of Lost. Another Frontline future report is Law and Disorder, which examines questionable police shootings after Hurricane Katrina.
Nature, currently in its 28th season, spotlighted upcoming episode Invasion of Giant Python, which will premiere on February 10. The Florida Everglades are being overrun by the many snakes on the loose due to people dumping them there. Although not indigenous, the area is very similar to their Asian environment and the ecosystem has yet to recalibrate. The video of a python eating an alligator is sure to be a hit on the Internet.
Following up on African American Lives, Faces of America with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. appears to be a fascinating series as it traces the genealogy of 12 famous people and reveals their history to them. The participants will include Meryl Streep, Stephen Colbert, Malcolm Gladwell, Eva Longoria, Elizabeth Alexander, Mario Batali, Queen Noor, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Yo-Yo Ma, Mike Nichols, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Louise Erdrich.
Coming in the fall is Baseball: The Tenth Inning. Ken Burns' brilliant documentary premiered in 1994 and covered the history of the sport up to 1993. The series will be re-broadcast and will conclude with this new installment that brings the series up to date, covering the highs and lows fans dealt with from the 1994 strike to the Red Sox winning the World Series.
American Masters focuses on creative American talents. Some of the subjects this season are Sam Cooke, I.M. Pei, Merle Haggard, and The Doors. The latter appear by way of Tom DiCillo's When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors, an intriguing look at the band presented solely through footage recorded during the band's existence.
The series Independent Lens is represented by the documentary DIRT! The Movie. Narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis, the film examines the essential yet overlooked material that surrounds and affects our lives. This is the type of thing PBS does best: highlighting aspects of life rarely contemplated. It premieres April 20.
At the Masterpiece presentation, series executive producer Rebecca Eaton revealed there would be more mysteries with Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, and Kenneth Branagh's Wallender as well as more Foyle’s War. There will also be new productions of Jane Austen’s Emma and The Diary of Anne Frank, the latter of which leads a week of programming in commemoration of the Holocaust.
Tavis Smiley Reports finds the talk-show host moving out from the confines of his studio for four primetime specials. The focus of the programs will be on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is a year into her job; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech against the Vietnam War; life five years after Hurricane Katrina in association with director Jonathan Demme, and a subject to be named later.
The long-running science series Nova spotlighted The Pluto Files, which deals with the recent controversy that saw Pluto lose its planet designation. Astrophysicist and show host Neil deGrasse Tyson and Planetary Science Institute director Mark Sykes were on hand and each made compelling arguments for their position. It was refreshing to witness two men respectfully debating.
April 7 will see the premiere of The Buddha, a documentary by David Grubin.
In celebration of its 40th Anniversary, a concert was held and recorded in October 2009 at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry House to honor Rounder Records. The program will be aired during March pledge drives and features roster artists such as Alison Krauss & Union Station, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Bela Fleck, and Steve Martin.
The PBS presentation concluded with two entries in the documentary series POV. Food, Inc. examines corporate food production in the United States and The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers spotlights an American patriot who revealed the truth to the American people about what their leaders were up to regarding Vietnam.
PBS has a very diverse, engaging line-up of programming that presents the world's past, present, and future better than any other network. It truly has something for everyone no matter what your interests.