Any fan of repressed British emotional drama and period costumes knows that “Downton Abbey” is set to make its season three return to U.S. television on PBS on Sunday, January 6 at 9pm. But the new PBS lineup for winter and spring brings other welcome news. “Call the Midwife,” a BBC medical drama set in 1950s East London and starring Jessica Raine, Miranda Hart, Cliff Parisi, Jenny Agutter, Pam Ferris, Judy Parfitt and Vanessa Redgrave, will be back for a second season in March. Doc “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” will premiere via Independent Lens in February, as will “Girl Model,” via POV, in March and Ken and Sarah Burns’ acclaimed “The Central Park Five” in April. Programming highlights are below (descriptions courtesy of PBS).
SECRETS OF HIGHCLERE CASTLE
Sunday, January 6, 2013, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET
It may be more famous now than any time in its 1,300-year history as the setting of “Downton Abbey,” but England’s Highclere Castle has its own stories to tell. In its heyday, Highclere was the social epicenter of Edwardian England. See how all the inhabitants of Highclere lived, from the aristocrats who enjoyed a life of luxury to the army of servants toiling “below stairs.” Also find out how the current inhabitants, Lord and Lady Carnarvon, spend $1 million in annual upkeep funds and what life in a fairytale castle is like today.
MASTERPIECE CLASSIC: “Downton Abbey, Season 3”
Sundays, January 6 to February 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m. ET
The Great War is over and a long-awaited engagement is on, but all is not tranquil at Downton Abbey as wrenching social changes, romantic intrigues and personal crises grip the majestic English country estate. The international hit, written by Julian Fellowes, stars Dame Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern and Hugh Bonneville, with guest star Shirley MacLaine. “Downton Abbey, Season 3” is a Carnival/Masterpiece co-production.
Monday, January 7, 2013, 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET
Follow a veteran reporter and his colleagues at Zeta, a Tijuana-based independent newsweekly, as they stubbornly ply their trade in one of the deadliest places in the world for members of the media. In Mexico, close to 50 journalists have been slain or have vanished since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderón came to power and launched a government offensive against the country’s powerful drug cartels and organized crime. As the drug war intensifies and the risks to journalists become greater, will the free press be silenced?
THE ABOLITIONISTS: AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
Tuesdays, January 8-22, 2013, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET
Vividly bringing to life the epic struggles of the men and women who fought to end slavery, THE ABOLITIONISTS tells the intertwined stories of Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Angelina Grimké, Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Brown. Fighting body and soul, they led the most important civil rights crusade in American history. What began as a pacifist movement became a fiery and furious struggle that forever changed the nation. Black and white, Northerners and Southerners, poor and wealthy, these passionate anti-slavery activists tore the nation apart in order to form a more perfect union.
INDEPENDENT LENS: “Soul Food Junkies”
Monday, January 14, 2013, 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET
Filmmaker Byron Hurt sets out to learn more about soul food and its relevance to black cultural identity. As he discovers, the relationship between African Americans and high-fat, calorie-rich traditional dishes such as ribs, grits and fried chicken is culturally based, deeply rooted, complex and often deadly. “Soul Food Junkies” puts this culinary tradition under the microscope to examine its positive and negative consequences.
PIONEERS OF TELEVISION: Season 3
Tuesdays, January 15 to February 5, 2013, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET
The third season of this Emmy-nominated series boasts interviews with legendary stars and never-before-seen images about iconic television shows and programming genres that continue to influence the medium today. January 15: “Funny Ladies” features the first standup comediennes to appear on television, including Mary Tyler Moore, Betty White and Marla Gibbs. The episode covers Lucille Ball’s breakthrough on “I Love Lucy,” television’s most enduring variety star, Carol Burnett, and features interviews with contemporary actresses including Tina Fey and Margaret Cho. January 22: “Primetime Soaps” explores the nighttime soap frenzy with interviewees Larry Hagman, Joan Collins, Linda Evans, Diahann Carroll, Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy, Michele Lee, Joan Van Ark and Donna Mills. January 29: “Superheroes” crosses many eras and features in-depth interviews with Adam West, Burt Ward, Julie Newmar, Lynda Carter, Lou Ferrigno, William Katt and others. It also includes comments from Robert Culp about his show “The Greatest American Hero,” recorded just days before he passed away. February 5: “Miniseries” surveys programs that rank among the top-rated episodes in television history; they were major events that captured the nation’s imagination. Interviewees are stars LeVar Burton, Louis Gossett Jr., Leslie Uggams, Ben Vereen, John Amos, Georg Stanford Brown, Ed Asner, Peter Strauss, Susan Blakely, Richard Chamberlain, Rachel Ward and Bryan Brown.
NATURE: “Attenborough’s Life Stories”
Wednesdays, January 23 to February 6, 2013, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET
In honor of Sir David Attenborough’s 60th anniversary on television, this three-part miniseries focuses on three fields that Attenborough feels have been transformed most profoundly: filmmaking, science and the environment. Richly illustrated with the sequences that Attenborough has spent 60 years capturing, new interviews in which he revisits the content, stories and locations that were featured in his landmark series, and packed with the personal anecdotes of the BBC’s most accomplished raconteur, “Attenborough’s Life Stories” is a singular synopsis of a unique half-century plus.
Fridays, January 25 to February 8, 2013, 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET
This compelling series tell the stories behind the stories of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. Six episodes combine history, biography, iconic performances, new analysis and the personal passions of celebrated hosts Ethan Hawke, Jeremy Irons, Derek Jacobi, Trevor Nunn, Joely Richardson and David Tennant. Episodes include “Macbeth With Ethan Hawke” (1/25, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET), in which the classic “Scottish play” goes under the microscope, and “The Comedies With Joely Richardson” (1/25, 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET), which explores why two gender-bending plays, Twelfth Night and As You Like It, remain among the most popular. The series also includes “Richard II With Derek Jacobi” (2/1, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET), “Henry IV & Henry V With Jeremy Irons” (2/1, 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET), “Hamlet With David Tennant” (2/8, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET) and “The Tempest With Trevor Nunn” (2/8, 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET).
NOVA: “Earth From Space”
Wednesday, February 13, 2013, 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET
“Earth From Space” is a groundbreaking two-hour special that reveals a spectacular new space-based vision of our planet. Produced in extensive consultation with NASA scientists, NOVA takes data from earth-observing satellites and transforms them into dazzling visual sequences, each one exposing the intricate and surprising web of forces that sustain life on earth. From the microscopic world of water molecules vaporizing over the ocean to a magnetic field bigger than Earth itself, the show reveals the astonishing beauty and complexity of our dynamic planet.
INDEPENDENT LENS: “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry”
February 25, 2013, 10:00-11:30 p.m. ET
This is the inside story of a dissident Chinese artist who blurs the boundaries of art and politics. First-time director Alison Klayman gained unprecedented access to Ai while working as a journalist in China. Her film is a detailed portrait of one of China’s most compelling public figures.
MAKERS: WOMEN WHO MAKE AMERICA
Tuesday, February 26, 2013, 8:00-11:00 p.m. ET
Review the story of how women, including Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinem, Ellen DeGeneres, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters and Katie Couric, have helped shape America over the last 50 years – through one of the most sweeping social revolutions in our country’s history – in pursuit of their rights to a full and fair share of political power, economic opportunity and personal autonomy. The documentary builds on an unprecedented multi-platform video experience from PBS and AOL: MAKERS.com.
POV: “Girl Model”
Sunday, March 24, 2013, 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET
Go beneath the facade of the modeling industry by following two people whose lives intersect because of it. Ashley is a deeply conflicted American model scout, and 13-year-old Nadya, plucked from a remote Siberian village and promised a lucrative career in Japan, is her latest discovery. As the young girl searches for glamour and an escape from poverty, she confronts the harsh realities of a culture that worships youth-and an industry that makes perpetual childhood a globally traded commodity. Official Selection of the 2011 International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam and Toronto International Film Festival.
CALL THE MIDWIFE: Season 2
Sundays, March 31 to May 19, 2013, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET
CALL THE MIDWIFE, written by Heidi Thomas and based on the best-selling memoirs of the late Jennifer Worth, returns for a second series. Extended to eight episodes, BBC One’s most successful new drama since ratings began sees the return of all its well-loved characters as well as some new faces. Nonnatus House opens its doors to warmly welcome the audience back into 1950s East End London and continues to follow Poplar’s community of exceptional midwives and nursing nuns. The new series stays true to its roots – viewers can expect to see more births, babies and bicycling, plus blossoming romance from an unexpected quarter.
NOVA: “Australia’s First 3 Billion Years”
Wednesdays, April 10 to May 1, 2013, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET
Of all continents on Earth, none preserves a more spectacular story of its origins than Australia. NOVA’s four-part miniseries takes viewers on a rollicking adventure from the birth of the Earth to the emergence of the world we know today. With help from high-energy host and geologist Richard Smith, meet titanic dinosaurs and giant kangaroos, sea monsters and prehistoric crustaceans, disappearing mountains and deadly asteroids. Join NOVA on the ultimate Outback road trip, an exploration of the history of the planet as seen through the mind-altering window of the Australian continent.
THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE
Tuesday, April 16, 2013, 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET
This new film from award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns tells the story of the five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in New York City’s Central Park in 1989. The film chronicles the Central Park Jogger case, for the first time from the perspective of these five teenagers whose lives were upended by this miscarriage of justice.
CONSTITUTION USA With Peter Sagal
Tuesdays, May 14-21, 2013, 8:00-10:00 p.m. ET
Breathing new life into the traditional civics lesson, Peter Sagal (host of NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me) travels across the country on a customized Harley-Davidson to find out where the U.S. Constitution lives, how it works and how it doesn’t; how it unites us as a nation and how it has nearly torn us apart. Sagal introduces some major constitutional debates today and talks with ordinary Americans and leading constitutional experts about what the Constitution actually says and what it means, the dramatic historical events and crises that have defined it, and why all this matters.
AMERICAN MASTERS: “Mel Brooks” (w.t.)
Monday, May 20, 2013, 9:00-10:30 p.m. ET
“Mel Brooks” (w.t.) profiles the larger-than-life, yet very private comedy giant. He has never authorized a biography and has requested that his friends not talk about him, making his participation in this AMERICAN MASTERS film a genuine first. Features new interviews with Brooks, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Cloris Leachman, Carl Reiner and Joan Rivers.
MASTERPIECE CLASSIC: “Mr. Selfridge”
Sundays, March 31 to May 19, 2013, 9:00 p.m. ET
Enjoy a dramatization of the real-life story of Harry Gordon Selfridge, the flamboyant and visionary American founder of the famous London department store that revolutionized the modern shopping experience. Created by Andrew Davies (“Little Dorrit”), the program features Jeremy Piven in his first television role since the hit series “Entourage.” “Mr. Selfridge” is an ITV Studios and MASTERPIECE coproduction