As with all of Wisconsin Public Television’s programs, Latino Americans is an engaging, educational and thought provoking, sharing the stories, lives and history of Latinos in the United States. After premiering last year, the series recently returned to WPT’s The Wisconsin Channel. And, you can watch the whole series online now or on the PBS Channel of your Roku and other digital device.
Now, we are taking the program from the screen and into the community for a great series of discussions and events. WPT is proud to be a community partner with the Verona Public Library’s Latino Americans: 500 Years of History program series. The program series was created by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association and it is part of an NEH initiative, The Common Good: The Humanities in the Public Square.
Latino Americans: 500 Years of History runs through Sept. 29, and two of the events are screenings of the film with discussions.
This Thursday, Sept. 3 at 7 p.m., join us to watch segments of Latino Americans: War and Peace (1942-1954) and then take part in a discussion about the film with other viewers and Jonathan Pollack, Ph. D, history instructor at Madison College.
Next, Thursday, Sept. 10 at 7 the conversation continues with segments of Latino Americans: The New Latinos (1946-1965) and more discussion.
10 Buildings That Changed America
When I was a kid growing up in Denver one of the most exciting things to happen was the building and opening of the city’s first indoor shopping mall, Buckingham Square. The building itself wasn’t remarkable from an architectural standpoint, but the fact that you could wonder around indoors and shop was quite the amazing new experience. Flash forward to now and Buckingham Square is a dilapidated eyesore blotting the landscape with third-rate stores and very little business.
In the new PBS special 10 Buildings That Changed America host Geoffrey Baer takes us on a tour of the history and importance of ten building that have had an impact on our culture. From the monumental importance of the Virginia State Capitol designed by Thomas Jefferson to the modern day wonder of Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by maverick Frank Gehry, this documentary weaves a set of stories that are surprisingly entertaining without being too technical.
Along the way we take a tour of local architectural giant Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House in Chicago and one of my favorite structures in the country, Dulles International Airport in Virginia designed by genius Eero Saarinen. 10 Buildings That Changed America premieres 8 p.m. Monday, May 13.
Independent Lens The Invisible War I don’t want to write a lot about this film because I want you to watch it and form your own emotions and opinions of the documentary.
“The Invisible War” from Independent Lens is an Academy Award-nominated documentary that examines the pervasive physical and sexual abuse suffered by female soldiers in the United States military. To be clear this film is about women who have been raped by male military personnel, and the institutions that both perpetuate and cover up these crimes. It’s a very emotional, enraging film that everyone should see. Independent Lens “The Invisible War” premieres on 9 p.m. Monday, May 13.
The airing of this documentary is quite timely. At a White House news conference Tuesday, President Obama said, “The bottom line is, I have no tolerance for this.” Read more on the President’s response to the rise in sexual assaults in the military in a New York Times report.
American Masters “Mel Brooks: Make a Noise”
“It’s good to be King.” And that’s exactly what Mel Brooks is — the king of great comedy movies. I’ve seen “Blazing Saddles” at least eight times and will always stop on any channel that is airing a Brooks film. His comedy is quirky, bizarre, insulting, insensitive, observational, and above all brilliant. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think “Young Frankenstein” is one of the funniest movies ever made.
In this new American Masters bio, the filmmakers take a brilliant and twisted look at Brooks’ career, using scenes from his numerous films and television appearances, and talking with his friends. Brooks himself is front and center in the film and provides an even greater glimpse into his mind and creative process. If you want a good, hearty laugh check out American Masters “Mel Brooks: Make a Noise,” which premiers 8 p.m. Monday, May 20 and encores on Wednesday, May 22 at 7 p.m.
Carole King: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize In Performance at the White House
I’m delighted that this late addition to the schedule came to reality. Just before putting the May schedule to bed we received word from PBS that Carole King was being honored with this prestigious award, and that it would be taped for broadcast in May. Because the show has not yet been taped I can’t tell you how awesome it is, but with the brilliance of Carole King and the grandiose setting of the White House you can bet this will be one very special hour of television. Carole King: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize In Performance at the White House premieres 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 28.
NOVA Manhunt – Boston Bombers
In the wake of the tragic bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, the producers at NOVA went to work on this special that looks at the technical and scientific resources brought to bare to catch the culprits. The NOVA team took a meticulous step-by-step examination of the rapidly unfolding detective story to show how investigators used sophisticated technology and plain, old hard work to identify the bombers. NOVA “Manhunt – Boston Bombers” premieres on Wednesday, May 29 at 8 p.m. Those of you in the Madison viewing area can see the episode online at wpt.org or during its encore broadcast, Tuesday, June 4 at 11 p.m.
Garry Denny previews Shelter Me, The Central Park Five, Director’s Cut and more new programs coming to Wisconsin Public Television.
Michael Mosley Specials
On public television we schedule a lot of science and technology programs, not the least of which being NOVA and my personal favorite NOVA scienceNOW. In fact, the Wednesday night schedule on PBS has become the television destination for good science programming. Notice I said “good.” Because if you look around the dial you’ll find plenty of what I consider to be junk science — programs that are highly promoted with style and import, but with substance that is a mile wide and an inch deep.
In recent years we’ve added a new face to the public television stable of host. His name is Michael Mosley, a British bloke with a curious nature and insatiable appetite for science. During April, we’re airing three new specials from Mosley and his team — each an informative and entertaining look at topics that are near and dear to us all — living longer.
In Eat, Fast and Live Longer Mosley explores whether or not it’s possible to eat whatever he wants, lose weight and live longer, all while making very few changes to his lifestyle. He takes us on an intriguing journey and makes the trip fun, while giving us a dose of serious science as part of the bargain. In The Truth About Exercise Mosley investigates new science that suggests we can all benefit from just three minutes of high intensity exercise per week. In the aptly titled Guts Mosley truly takes one for the team by swallowing a tiny pill camera to demonstrate what goes on “down there” during the admittedly fascinating digestion process. You can’t say he’s a host that mails it in.
Eat, Fast and Live Longer premieres 9 p.m. Wednesday, April 3. The Truth About Exercise premieres 9 p.m. Wednesday, April 10 and Guts premieres 9 p.m. Wednesday, April 17. Each with their respective encore at 10 p.m. the following Tuesday.
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
Okay, I’ll be honest: Phryne Fisher is one good-looking woman. But, she’s also whip-smart and awfully good at solving crimes.
Set in 1920s Melbourne, the gorgeous actress Essie Davis plays a glamorous, wealthy socialite who constantly finds herself mixed up in solving crimes that baffle the police and serve as wonderful backdrops for drama and action. This is one of the few mystery series that I’ve seen in recent years that I purchased for the WPT schedule after previewing only one episode. It’s just that good. The stories are intriguing, the supporting cast of characters is fun to watch, and the sets and costumes are simply exquisite. And did I mention that Miss Fisher is easy on the eyes?Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries premieres 9 p.m. Thursday, April 4 and airs weekly, right after Poirot.
Director’s Cut: Wisconsin Film Festival
Our local series Director’s Cut takes its annual walk through the Wisconsin Film Festival. This year guest host Pete Schwaba gives us a wonderful insider’s tour of the festival along with clips galore and interviews with filmmakers. Without rival, Wisconsin Public Television is THE home for independent film on television, and Director’s Cut’s involvement with the Wisconsin Film Festival is another way for us to showcase the important and impressive work of independent filmmakers from Wisconsin and around the world. Director’s Cut: Wisconsin Film Festival premieres 9 p.m. Friday, April 5 with an encore later the same evening. As a reminder, the Wisconsin Film Festival runs April 11-18, and the new season of Director’s Cut and Director’s Cut Presents premieres Friday, April 19.
Independent Lens “The House I Live In”
Speaking of independent film, the new film from producer/director Eugene Jarecki (“Why We Fight”) takes a penetrating and devastating look at one of America’s longest wars — the War on Drugs. The film illustrates the effects of the decades-long war on children, families, communities and the nation. Most eye opening is the film’s illumination of how the African American community has been decimated by the War on Drugs and overall drug policy in this country. I suspect that you could watch this film and find reasons to agree and disagree, but you will certainly come away with a new perspective on the drug war, and asking questions that few politicians and jurist have answers. Independent Lens “The House I Live In” premieres 9 p.m. Monday, April 8.
R&B artist John Legend performs “The House I Live In” theme song.
The Central Park Five
In a mesmerizing new documentary from Sarah Burns (yes, daughter of Ken Burns) and David McMahon, the case of the rape and brutal beating of the Central Park jogger is brought to the screen like no film before. In New York in the summer of 1989 a white woman jogger in Central Park was attacked, raped and beaten until near dead. The city and the country were outraged. Someone had to be brought to justice.
The haste to justice and judgment lead police to arrest, question and ultimately charge five teenage boys with the brutal crime. The problem is they didn’t do it. Their confessions were coerced — the result of slimy police and prosecutor tactics — and all five teenagers served time in prison for a crime they didn’t commit. The Central Park Five focuses on the events in chronological order and tells a sad, almost angering story using great footage from the period, and most importantly, the words of the five convicted teenagers, who are now grown men irrevocably affected by their ordeal.
This is not easy television to watch, but it’s a well-made film with tones that still resonate, more than two decades after the crime. The Central Park Five premieres 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 16 and encores 10 p.m. Wednesday, April 17.
Shelter Me: Let’s Go Home
I’ve already established in this space that I am an animal lover. My two golden retrievers made an appearance here, and now they are world famous. Last year we aired the first episode of Shelter Me, which featured wonderful stories of adopted shelter animals helping people with personal difficulties. In Shelter Me: Let’s Go Home host Jane Lynch (Glee, Best of Show) leads us through great stories of shelter pets that go from being rescued to rescuer. We get to see dogs that visit patients in hospitals; shelter dogs being trained by firefighters for search and rescue; and even a dramatic rescue of a litter of puppies in danger of death from starvation. Just like episode 1, Shelter Me: Let’s Go Home is moving and uplifting television. It premieres 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 24.
The Bletchley Circle
In the past two years our colleagues at PBS have been on the look out for more dramas and mysteries for the schedule. The popular series Call the Midwife is just one example of the fruits of their labor. The Bletchley Circle is another series picked up by PBS and has a limited three-week run in April.
Based on the famous World War II British code-breaking center known as Bletchley Park, the series tells the story of four women who used to work as codebreakers. A series of murders takes place in 1952, that the women feel have a pattern, but police are making no headway in solving. The women take it on themselves to investigate the murders and hopefully bring the culprit to justice. It’s a dark, moody drama, but it gives viewers a rather good yarn to enjoy. The Bletchley Circle premieres 9 p.m. Sunday, April 21.
Garry Denny previews new Pioneers of Television, Frontline, David Suchet and more.
Pioneers of Television
I’ve mentioned in previous blog entries that I’m a huge television geek. I love, loath and otherwise appreciate all things TV. Even really bad television can be useful in that it helps to build true appreciation for good television. It’s for these reasons that I am a big fan of our Pioneers of Television series, now entering it’s third season on public television.
In the premiere episode titled, “Funny Ladies,” we are treated to some wonderful clips from classic television comedies, including I Love Lucy, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and, of course, The Carol Burnett Show. But, it’s more than just a clip fest as the producer (Milwaukee native Steve Boettcher) has captured some really wonderful interviews with the actresses and actors who brought us so much hilarity over the years. The interviews with Joan Rivers, Carol Burnett, Margaret Cho, Mary Tyler Moore,
Tina Fey, Marla Gibbs and many more give viewers so much insight into television comedy and the people who made it all possible. Simply put it’s just plain fun to watch this show and the series. The other new episodes in the series are “Primetime Soaps,” “Superheroes,” and “Miniseries.” Ryan Seacrest, who is stepping up in class from the mediocrity of American Idol, narrates the series. Pioneers of Television premieres 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 5.
Preview: Carol Burnett describes her first nervous meeting with Lucille Ball.
Frontline“Raising Adam Lanza”
I don’t usually write about shows that I have not seen entirely, but this is a special case. In the wake of the horrific event at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. the country and the world is left struggling for answers and meaning in the massacre. In “Raising Adam Lanza” Frontline examines the life of the young man and the town he changed forever. Lanza had no known friends, left behind no diary, and destroyed his computer and any evidence it might have contained. Lanza’s life and motives remain largely a mystery. Working with Hartford Courant, Frontline goes to Newtown to look for answers to the central, and so far elusive question, “who was Adam Lanza?” Frontline “Raising Adam Lanza” premieres at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19.
David Suchet in the Footsteps of St. Paul
Public television and mystery fans everywhere know David Suchet simply as Poirot. Not that Suchet has been forever typecast as the smart, fussy, exacting, and stylish detective, but his role as Poirot will likely be his lasting impression with most viewers familiar with his work. Fortunately, Suchet on occasion steps out of his Poirot hat to host specials for public television – last year we aired his tremendous travel documentary David Suchet on the Orient Express.
Now, in his new two-part series we’re fortunate to travel along with Suchet as he traces the footsteps of St. Paul. In the hands of most hosts this documentary could have been dry, dull and painful to watch, but Suchet’s enthusiasm for the subject and his approach to the story makes this a joyous two hours of television. Suchet has long held a great deal of interest in St. Paul and has always wanted to play him in film or on stage. For him this documentary is the next best thing and Suchet’s presentation is just plain fun to watch. Sure, you’ll learn a lot, but you’ll also be entertained. David Suchet in the Footsteps of St. Paul premiers at 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10 and part two airs the following Sunday, Feb. 17 at 7 p.m.
Independent Lens “The Powerbroker: Whitney Young’s Fight for Civil Rights”
When I was a kid, I grew up in household where Civil Rights leaders were equivalent to superheroes. Many of my heroes were known for marches, speeches, civil disobedience and organizing the African American community into a force to be reckoned with.
But there was another kind of Civil Rights hero, like Whitney M. Young, Jr. Young took a different, some would say controversial, route to fighting for Civil Rights. He went directly to the white power structure and challenged racism at the corporate and political levels.
As the Executive Director of the National Urban League Young took a small fledgling organization and turned it into a major player in the Civil Rights Movement, while managing to maintain the support of influential white people and businesses. Young worked closely with Presidents Johnson and Nixon, and managed to have major influence over national programs, including the War on Poverty.
Whitney M. Young, Jr. may not be a household name, but I guarantee he was an important figure in the Civil Rights Movement, and this film is both a joy and sobering reminder of just how far we’ve come in this country. Independent Lens “The Powerbroker: Whitney Young’s Fight for Civil Rights” premieres at 9 p.m. Monday, Feb. 18. Learn more about the film and watch an extended preview.
Battle for the Elephants
I’ve already established in this blog that I’m a big time animal lover. So it should come as no surprise that I’m recommending this show to anyone who will listen to me. It is estimated that nearly 50,000 elephants were illegally slaughtered in 2012 for their tusks to satisfy the disgusting ivory trade. In this important and sobering National Geographic special we meet five people who have devoted their lives to saving elephants. These wonderful people are fighting a war of sorts to end both the supply and the demand for ivory, and to put systems in place that will protect the lives of elephants all across the African continent. Read more from National Geographic Magazine.
When I watched this film I was deeply saddened, profoundly angry, but at the same time hopeful that the dedication of animal conservationists can make a difference and save the lives of these beautiful creatures. If you love animals, care about animal welfare or just love watching elephants, please tune in to this special. Battle for the Elephants premieres 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27.
Read up on this month’s “don’t miss” programs selected by Director of Programming, Garry Denny.
You can find all the programs listed below and more on the WPT Schedule.
Every October I pack a small bag and take a flight to New Orleans for a preview screening of new BBC program offers. The event, BBC Showcase, is a 2-day affair where approximately 100 public television programmers from around the country gather to watch extended clips of dozens of BBC dramas, comedies and documentaries being offered for our schedules. Admittedly it can be exciting to see what’s new and available, but right around the 9th or 10th long clip I get a little fidgety and want to leave the cold, dark screening room for the fun of the French Quarter. This past year, however, the desire to bolt for the great outdoors was delayed by clips from the new BBC crime drama series DCI Banks. After just seven minutes of the first episode I was hooked. The main character Alan Banks (played by Stephen Tompkinson of Ballykissangel) is a seasoned, no-nonsense chief detective who leads a unit of investigators that catch the most high profile and complex cases. The stories in each episode are gritty, engaging, and at times quite challenging – for the investigators and the audience. I love DCI Banks and if you give the show a shot I think you’ll fall in love as well. DCI Banks premieres on Friday, January 11 at 9 p.m. and runs for seven weeks.
Frontline: Inside Obama’s Presidency
I’ve said it before, but I think it bears repeating: Frontline is THE best investigative journalism show on television. With the long campaign over and election decided Frontline takes an in-depth look at President Obama’s first four years in office, and looks ahead to the next four years. Using Frontline’s unrivaled access to politicians and White House confidants the documentary paints the picture of a presidency that began with so much hope and promise, but stumbled along the way while learning some very tough lessons about governing our complex nation. “Inside Obama’s Presidency” examines both the triumphs and failures, leaving the viewer with a deeper understanding of not just the man, but the maddening inner workings of government. Frontline “Inside Obama’s Presidency” premieres on Tuesday, January 15 at 9 p.m. and encores on Wednesday, January 16 at 10 p.m.
Independent Lens: Beauty is Embarrassing
Some films are just so hard to describe. But defying description is what makes “Beauty is Embarrassing” such a wonderful film. You may not know the name Neil Berkeley, but I’ll bet you’ve seen his work. Neil is an artist who first came to national attention as a designer, illustrator, animator and puppeteer for the classic kids’ series Pee Wee’s Playhouse. As an artist Neil has a unique, bizarre and unassuming style that is just plain fun. Well, strange and fun to be sure. In “Beauty is Embarrassing” we enter Neil’s world and are immediately taken by just how prolific he has been in his career as we are introduced to his paintings, sculptures, living art, animations and quirky sense of humor. This film will make you smile, laugh out loud and pat yourself on the back for spending the hour with Wisconsin Public Television. Independent Lens “Beauty is Embarrassing” premieres on Monday, January 21 at 9 p.m.
NOVA: Who Killed Lindbergh’s Baby?
It’s clear that American television audiences have a fascination with true crime stories. Almost everything about it catches our attention – the victim, the crime, the perpetrator, the law and legal wrangling. It’s all-so very Law & Order-ish (my favorite drama series of all time). Jumping into the fray is our esteemed science series NOVA with an episode titled “Who Killed Lindbergh’s Baby?” The facts of the crime are well-known: on the evening of March 1, 1932 the baby boy of Charles and Anne Lindbergh was kidnapped from their home in Hopewell, NJ and after weeks of failed ransom negotiations the boy was found dead less than five miles away from home. For this documentary the team at NOVA decided to reopen the investigation and lend a new, more scientific approach to determining the truth. Using state-of-the-art forensics and behavioral science techniques the team of investigators seek to determine what happened, who the true culprits are and why baby Lindbergh was kidnapped on the first place. Despite the age of the crime and what you may think you already know, this is a gripping hour of television. NOVA “Who Killed Lindbergh’s Baby?” premieres on Wednesday, January 30 at 8 p.m. and encores on Tuesday, February 5 at 11 p.m.
Read up on this month’s “don’t miss” programs selected by Director of Programming, Garry Denny.
You can find all the programs listed below and more on the WPT Schedule.
Great Performances “Magical Mystery Tour Revisited”
I have to be honest: I’m a fair weather Beatles fan. I like the well-known hits, but have much less appreciation for deeper cuts on their albums and literally no appreciation for their films. To some of you that may seem somewhat sacrilegious, but c’mon those films are just plain dreadful. We are all quite familiar with A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, but in 1967 the band made a film titled Magical Mystery Tour. To say that the film was a complete departure from their previous work would be an understatement. When the film debuted on the BBC in August 1967 a stunned British public was quite turned off by the film’s surreal, nearly imperceptible storyline and images of anarchy. The reaction was both swift and strong – most who saw it hated it.
In Great Performances “Magical Mystery Tour Revisited” the filmmakers set out to explore the origins of the film, why it was made and the circumstances in which it was made. There are interviews with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr as well as archival footage of John Lennon and George Harrison talking about the film, including outtakes from the film itself. “Magical Mystery Tour Revisited” is a fascinating study of artist excess, hubris and lack of insight into audience expectations. Great Performances “Magical Mystery Tour Revisited” premieres 10:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14 and is immediately followed by the Magical Mystery Tour film in its entirety at 11:30.
First Freedom: The Fight for Religious Liberty One genre that has become a staple of PBS programs is documentaries that have dramatic reenactments to help tell and propel a story laden with historical facts. Of course, if you tune around the dial you can see any number of cheesy documentaries with poorly acted and executed reenactments, but producers for public television deliver high quality productions. In our new documentary First Freedom: The Fight for Religious Freedom, the story of America’s founding fathers (and mothers!) struggle to make religious freedom a part of law comes to life. Using interviews with present day authorities on the subject of faith and American history, intertwined with historical dramatic reenactments, the documentary is an engaging film that successfully tells a little explored part of American history. During my preview of the film I initially felt like I wouldn’t make it to the end, but ultimately it not only held my attention, but also made me glad that I stuck with it. First Freedom: The Fight for Religious Liberty premieres 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 18.
Breakfast Special 2: Revenge of the Omelets
I can’t think of anyone that doesn’t like breakfast. We all have been told it’s the most important meal of the day, but it can also be the most satisfying meal of the day. Several years ago producer Rick Sebak (A Hot Dog Program, A Flea Market Documentary) produced Breakfast Special in which he tantalized audiences with visits to cafes, restaurants and roadside eateries known for their breakfast food and atmosphere. It’s impossible to watch this parade of pancakes, waffles, eggs, bacon and pastries and not instantly crave some breakfast. Well, luckily for our taste buds Sebak has returned with a sequel title Breakfast Special 2: Revenge of the Omelets. In the special Sebak visits more breakfast joints in search of unique menu items that keep locals coming back for more. Like the first special, I dare you to watch this new show without salivating and needing to get your breakfast fix. I don’t want to give away much more, but leave you with two words: lobster hash. Breakfast Special 2: Revenge of the Omelets premieres 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 25 followed by the original Breakfast Special, which you can watch online now.
Call the Midwife Holiday Special For fans of this breakout PBS series this is nothing but great news. The first season may have come and gone, but we have an all-new holiday special premiering 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 30. Also, I’m pleased to tell you that season two of Call the Midwife premieres on Wisconsin Public Television in late March 2013. We’re committed to this wonderful series and are glad that it has found a home on public television.
Lark Rise to Candleford
If you look around the dial at all the dramas on broadcast network and cable television you will notice one common thread: the shows tend to deal with the absolute worst of human nature. It’s all there – murder, deceit, backstabbing, cheating, and any form of depravity you can name. Of course, some of these themes can be found in public television dramas, particularly our mystery series like Poirot, Sherlock or Wallander.
However, unlike our commercial counterparts we also offer a lineup of dramas that focus on the gentler, more desirable aspects of the human existence. Case in point is our wonderful series Lark Rise to Candleford. Told against the backdrop of the English countryside in the late 19th century, Lark Rise to Candleford tells the story of young Laura Timmins as she leaves her rural home in Lark Rise to live with her cousin in the wealthier, more urban town of Candleford. The entire series is lush, gorgeous, and the stories and acting are first rate. We’ve aired Lark Rise to Candleford before, but now that we’re starting the whole series over here’s your chance to fall in love with a great drama. Lark Rise to Candleford premieres 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6.
Independent Lens “As Goes Janesville”
By now you may have heard a thing or two about this film by filmmaker Brad Lichtenstein. In fact, if you haven’t I’d be surprised. After all, Lichtenstein has been doing a stellar job of promoting the film on social media and in appearances on several commercial media television shows. To say he’s a master promoter would be an understatement. Anyway, “As Goes Janesville” is a documentary that chronicles the plight of Janesville in the wake of the closing of the GM assembly plant in 2010. The city lost 11,000 jobs from GM and other related industries, and the economy suffered greatly as the largest employer shuttered its doors.
The documentary follows two former assembly plant workers who must seek alternative employment situations: Gayle, who ends up taking another GM job 300 miles away in Fort Wayne and travels back and forth to Janesville to be with her family, and Cindy who was laid off from Alcoa, a supplier to GM, as she takes courses to become a medical lab technician for a new hospital opening in Janesville. Their stories are engrossing and moving to say the least. “As Goes Janesville” also manages to land itself in the middle of the budget bill and union morass that engulfed the state under new governor Scott Walker. The intercutting between the various stories and cast of characters is what makes this a film worth watching. Independent Lens“As Goes Janesville” premieres 9 p.m. Monday, Oct. 8.
Frontline “The Choice 2012”
Every four years we get two presidential candidates who speak to us primarily through constant and irritating television ads designed to characterize their opponent in ways that will sway the electorate. Unfortunately, this election year is no different. Fortunately, every four years Frontline comes to the rescue with “The Choice.” For two great hours of television “The Choice” gives viewers a thorough and non-biased view of President Obama and his challenger Mitt Romney. It gives us an in-depth examination of who these men really are – their pasts, their beliefs, their careers – and most importantly insight into what’s at stake in this election. You will not find a better documentary that covers these two men anywhere on television. Period. Frontline“The Choice 2012” premieres 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 9 with repeats 10 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 10 and 7 p.m. Monday, November 5 (the night before the election).
Hetty Wainthropp Investigates
Mysteries have long been a staple of the public television schedule. Let’s face it – everyone loves a good old-fashioned yarn of intrigue. In this wonderfully genteel series Patricia Routledge (of Keeping Up Appearances fame) plays a retired working-class woman who just seems to have a knack for solving all manner of crimes. Hetty is a singular character that is fun and entertaining to watch as she takes on cases that the local police may deem too small for their level of expertise. Hetty takes the case and always solves it. For a fun, engaging hour of mystery you can’t beat this series. Hetty Wainthropp Investigates premieres 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18.
Secrets of the Dead “The Man Who Saved the World”
Have you ever heard of a man named Vasili Arkhipov? Yeah, me either. That is until this episode of Secrets of the Dead landed on my desk a few weeks ago. In a little known story from the height of the Cold War, “The Man Who Saved the World” recounts an amazing incident during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Vasili Arkhipov was a captain of a Soviet Foxtrot-class submarine positioned off the coast of Florida. As tension mounted between Washington, Moscow and Havana the world was so much closer to a nuclear war than was known at the time.
As the story unfolds Captain Arkhipov was given the order by his superiors to launch a nuclear torpedo at the United States. He refused, and in doing so gave the world its best, last chance to avert an all-out war. Secrets of the Dead“The Man Who Saved the World” premieres 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23, following another great new documentary at 7 p.m. titled The Cuban Missile Crisis: Three Men Go to War.
Garry Denny is Director of Programming for Wisconsin Public Television. He is responsible for the acquisition, scheduling and delivery of programming services on WPT, and each month, he gives you the inside scoop on the best new programs in his post “A Look Ahead.”
Masterpiece Mystery! “Wallander, Season 3” Over the past several seasons public television has amassed a wonderfully unique and impressive collection of detectives as part of the Masterpiece Mystery! series. For my money the most unique addition to the lineup has been Kenneth Branagh as Swedish detective Kurt Wallander. Based on the mystery novels by Henning Mankell, “Wallander” mysteries are so moody, so dark, yet so totally mesmerizing. Against the serene and gorgeous backdrop of Skane, Sweden, Detective Wallander is faced with solving seemingly unimaginable crimes in a usually idyllic setting, while also facing some of his own personal problems and demons. “Wallander” is smart, thoughtful and totally engrossing television. Now in its third season “Wallander” has hit its stride and we hope will be a part of the Masterpiece Mystery! family for a long time. Masterpiece Mystery! “Wallander” airs on Sundays, September 9, 16 and 23 at 8 p.m.
Here’s Kenneth Branagh on his character, Wallander: “Sometimes he’s a beautiful poetic mess, sometimes he’s a just a mess, mess, but its genuine, there’s an authenticity to him as a person that I like.”
Great Performances at the Met “Wagner’s Ring Cycle” I’ll admit that opera isn’t exactly the first television viewing choice for most people. In fact, it can be darn challenging and intimidating to watch, particularly for folks with precious little time to watch anything on television. However, as public television proves year round we are still the only channel on the air that provides consistent, quality arts programming. And, if you have the chance to see all or just part of “Wagner’s Ring Cycle” you’ll be glad you took the time.
During the week of Sept. 10, Great Performances at the Met is bringing 17.5 hours of “Wagner’s Ring Cycle” in its entirety over five nights. Night one features a brilliant documentary about the making of this all-new stage production, including great footage of rehearsals, building and operation of the immense sets, and interviews with the creative team responsible for pulling off this massive television event. Nights two through five feature “Wagner’s Ring Cycle” in all its glory. It’s both spectacular and grand, with a stage presentation that will blow your mind.
I doubt you’ll watch all 17+ hours, but I urge you to at minimum to watch the documentary 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 10 and also to see some of the actual opera during the rest of the week. You’ll be glad you did. Great Performances at the Met “Wagner’s Ring Cycle” premieres 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 10 and continues all week.
Get a jump on this 17.5 hour event by previewing the first 30 minutes of Wagner’s Dream, the documentary about the making of “Wagner’s Ring Cycle.”
Death and the Civil War:
I’ve written here several times before that no channel on the dial does history better than PBS. We prove that again with the premiere of a new Ric Burns (Ken’s brother) documentary titled Death and the Civil War. In a style that we’ve happily grown accustomed to Ric Burns takes a look at the Civil War from the viewpoint of the war’s effect and influence over the way in which our country dealt with the unprecedented death toll and carnage of the conflict. The film also examines how the war challenged American cultural attitudes about death and fundamentally transformed federal government policies toward soldiers. This is a moving and thought-provoking film that gives a fresh look at something I feel we have easily taken for granted. Death and the Civil War: American Experience premieres 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18 and encores at 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20.
Call the Midwife
As you know, public television made popular culture headlines this year with the return of Masterpiece Classic“Downton Abbey,” which has gone on to become our most popular series in more than a decade. On the heels of that critical and audience success the programmers at PBS went shopping for more series that could appeal to the “Downton” fans and give our Sunday night lineup a solid boost in the new fall season. Well, they found it! Call the Midwife is a new six part drama series set in London’s east end in the 1950s and follows the intimate and harrowing experiences of midwives.
In a nutshell, the plot of this wonderful series follows newly qualified midwife Jenny Lee and the work of midwives and the nuns of Nonnatus House, a nursing convent, coping with the medical problems and personal challenges. I’ve previewed the first three episodes and can tell you that Call the Midwife is as engaging a drama as I have seen in a long while. And, just between you and me: there are more episodes in the works. Call the Midwife premieres 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30. In case you miss some or all of the Sunday episodes I’ve scheduled an encore run on Thursdays at 9 p.m. beginning Oct. 18.
Garry Denny is Director of Programming for Wisconsin Public Television. He is responsible for the acquisition, scheduling and delivery of programming services on WPT, and each month, he gives you the inside scoop on the best new programs in his post “A Look Ahead.”
The War Normally I don’t use this space to write about a show or series that is repeating in the schedule. However, almost any series by famed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns deserves some attention and a second look. Certainly his seminal film The War is no exception. The 15-hour epic film is by almost any measure the most important, most in-depth and best documentary ever produced about World War II. Burns’ pure skill in weaving together complex issues with both familiar and unfamiliar historical events, along with truly moving personal stories makes The War an engrossing and utterly engaging television series. I know that committing to 15-hours of television viewing is nearly impossible these days, but do yourself a favor and tune-in for any part of this wonderful documentary. And, if you have a DVR just record the whole thing and watch each episode when you can. Trust me, it’s totally worth it. The War premieres 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 1 and continues through Wednesday, Aug. 8.
The Barnes Collection
When it comes to arts programming no one does it better than public television. In fact, no other broadcaster even does arts programming any more. And, just to be clear I’m not counting the reality junk like Dancing With the Stars, The Voice and American Idol – they are nothing more than hyped-up talent shows with 12-minutes of commercials. But, I digress. As part of PBS’ Summer of the Arts we’re airing a truly wonderful documentary about the preeminent art collection of Dr. Albert C. Barnes. In The Barnes Collection viewers are treated to a rare inside look at the life of the man, his amazing collection, and the design and building of the museum that houses his collection. The entire collection, estimated to be worth $20-$30 billion, famously contains more Cezannes than all of the museums in Paris and more than 180 Renoir’s. The documentary is partially told through the words of Barnes himself (as performed by a voice actor) and explores his life, his approach to art collecting and ultimately the legacy he left behind. For a man that amassed all of his wealth manufacturing a drug to treat gonorrhea, he certainly put his money to good use and left the world with a priceless treasure. The Barnes Collection premieres 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5 and encores on at 10:05 p.m. Monday, Aug. 6.
Whether you’re an animal lover or not (I am), everyone loves babies in the animal kingdom. In our wonderful special Orangutan Diary you will certainly get your fix of cute, cuddly orangutans to ooh and coo over. But, there’s more to this documentary than just fun video of these amazing creatures. This moving and uplifting documentary follows the work of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation as their vets and caregivers provide a safe sanctuary for over 600 orangutans whose natural habitat, the rain forest, is slowly being burned down around them. Then there are the score of orphaned orangutans whose parents were either illegally poached or sold as pets. The documentary is so good at exposing the problems faced by the orangutan population, the love and care of the foundation staff, and the bonds formed between humans and our distant cousins. It’s a wonderful hour of television. Orangutan Diary premieres at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 15.
Garry Denny is Director of Programming for Wisconsin Public Television. He is responsible for the acquisition, scheduling and delivery of programming services on WPT, and each month, he gives you the inside scoop on the best new programs in his post “A Look Ahead.“
POV “The City Dark”
Every October I’m one of six very lucky programmers to make a trek to New York City to serve on the POV Editorial Committee. During this very intensive weekend of work we view literally dozens of documentaries that have been submitted for possible inclusion in the POV season. Along with six filmmakers and the POV staff we discuss, argue, cajole, laugh, cry and ultimately come together to pick the best films to bring to the PBS schedule. This year one of the true standout films with almost unanimous committee support is “The City Dark.” In his very entertaining and thought-provoking film Ian Cheney (King Corn, The Greening of Southie) explores a topic that is growing in our culture, but so far is mostly overlooked — darkness, or more accurately, the lack of darkness. In cities from New York to Maine to New Mexico the film explores how the true night sky has been almost eliminated by the glare of streetlights, outdoor signs and other sources of light produced by mankind. The film delves into what effects the lack of darkness may have on society, human and animal health, and our ecology. “The City Dark” is quite humorous, visually engaging and will hold your attention throughout. POV “The City Dark” premieres on Friday, July 6 at 8 p.m. Learn more about the film and watch the trailer.
Frontline “Endgame: AIDS in Black America”
I have no doubt in my mind that Frontline is the best investigative journalism program on television. 60 Minutes on CBS is a very close second. The rest, including Dateline NBC and 20/20 on ABC, are little more than sensationalistic televised tabloids with junk journalism. Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox for now and get to the episode at hand. The producers at Frontline take a look at the AIDS crisis as experienced through the lens of the black population in America. The film traces the history of the epidemic and takes a very personal approach to AIDS by showing its effect on some really extraordinary people who are living with the disease. Of course, there’s Magic Johnson, but the film goes beyond “celebrity victims” and delves into the lives of ordinary people whose lives have been completely changed by a disease that is still growing in the black community. This film, like every episode of Frontline I’ve ever seen, is captivating from the first frame and will hold your attention all the way to the end. Frontline “Endgame: AIDS in Black America” premieres on Tuesday, July 10 at 9 p.m., with an encore on Thursday, July 12 at 10 p.m.
As I write this blog I’m desperately trying to figure out a way to write about Market Warriors without sounding either too smarmy or too critical. Here’s the issue: when I was first briefed about Market Warriors a year ago I was quite excited. After all, it’s about time that PBS produced a series that would be a good companion for the wildly popular and successful Antiques Roadshow. And, Market Warriors has a decent (if not original) concept: four “pickers” wander through antique and estate sales looking for bargains, and then take their pickings to auctions to see who makes the largest profit. Sounds fun, right? Well, kinda. In May I was at the PBS Annual Meeting in Denver where we finally got a long preview of the show. For whatever reason I was underwhelmed by what I saw. The four pickers didn’t seem all that engaging and the items they purchased lacked fascinating back story’s that could have given the show more panache. Having said all that, I’m finding more optimism about the series because PBS and the producers of Market Warriors have taken some of the feedback from programmers and have begun to incorporate changes into the show. So, ultimately I think Market Warriors will be a good show and a great companion for Antiques Roadshow. It just may take a few episodes into the run to hit its stride. Market Warriors premieres 8 p.m. Monday, July 16 with repeats throughout the week. Please note that the series will air four new episodes in July, take the month of August off and return with all new episodes in September.