PBS has revealed its Fall 2015 primetime schedule, which includes everything from dramas, to the performing arts, to nature and science programs, anchored by the story of America’s most legendary filmmaker and his magical legacy in “Walt Disney” on AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, and the new MASTERPIECE drama “Indian Summers,” featuring acclaimed actress Julie Walters.
Of special interest to this blog, and part of the network’s AMERICAN MASTERS series, is the feature documentary “Althea,” which recounts the life and achievements of the groundbreaking African American tennis player, Althea Gibson, set to premiere on September 4.
The network has also set a November celebration of America’s diverse musical history in AMERICAN EPIC, a series that will document the roots of modern music. Over 3 nights, audiences will rediscover the families whose music was recorded (early blues, country, gospel, Hawaiian, Cajun and folk), without which there would be no rock, pop, R&B or hip hop. Included as part of the music series will be the premiere of “Unity – The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson,” a concert special that showcases songs from Tony Succar’s album of the same name.
There is also its new Civil War drama, “Mercy Street.” The series, executive produced by Ridley Scott, will unfold in 6 parts, and will be the first American drama to air on PBS in more than a decade. It will join a robust Sunday night drama lineup on PBS in winter 2016, including the final season of “Downton Abbey” on MASTERPIECE.
“Mercy Street” follows the lives of two volunteer nurses on opposing sides of the Civil War – New England abolitionist Mary Phinney and Confederate supporter Emma Green. The Green family’s luxury hotel in Alexandria, Virginia, has been transformed into Mansion House, a Union Army hospital tending to the war’s wounded. Inspired by memoirs and letters from real doctors and nurse volunteers at Mansion House Hospital, this new drama reveals the stories of those struggling to save lives while managing their own hardships.
The series features the acting talents of black actors like McKinley Belcher III and Shalita Grant in starring roles.
And in September, “Gorongosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise” documents the revival of Mozambique’s national park after years of civil war in that country.
Included in the NOVA series will be the November broadcast of “Eddie Murphy: The Kennedy Center mark Twain Prize,” which will honor comedian and actor Eddie Murphy, the latest recipient of The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. From the stage of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, a lineup of the biggest names in comedy salutes the 18th recipient of the humor prize.
And on Tuesday this fall, PBS’ acclaimed investigative series, FRONTLINE, uncovers the latest in America’s war on drugs, immigration reform, the hunt for the Pan Am flight 103 bombers and more.
“PBS has the very best shows this fall, from historic dramas to true-life mysteries to extraordinary live performances and more,” says Beth Hoppe, PBS Chief Programming Executive and General Manager, General Audience Programming. “It’s a season that highlights what we do best as we revisit Ken Burns’s seminal masterpiece film, introduces new epic series like “Indian Summers,” and surprises us with fresh takes on things we thought we knew, like the legacy of Walt Disney or the musicians profiled in AMERICAN EPIC. When viewers want to be entertained, learn, laugh and cry, all week long, they turn to PBS.”
Check out the full lineup below, via press release from PBS:
SEPTEMBER ON PBS:
AMERICAN MASTERS “Althea” — Uncover the story of Althea Gibson (1927-2003), who emerged as the unlikely queen of the segregated tennis world of the 1950s. She was the first African American to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals (precursor of the U.S. Open) — a decade before Arthur Ashe. The documentary explores her mentoring by boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, former New York City mayor David Dinkins and others. Interviewees include Dinkins, Wimbledon champion Dick Savitt and Billie Jean King. Produced and directed by Rex Miller (A Chef’s Life). — Friday, September 4, 9:00-10:30 p.m. ET
ARTHUR & GEORGE ON MASTERPIECE — Martin Clunes (“Doc Martin”) stars as world-famous author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in this three-part adaptation of Julian Barnes’ acclaimed novel that follows the separate but intersecting lives of two men: a half-Indian son of a vicar who is framed for a crime he may not have committed; and Doyle, who investigates the case. — Sundays, September 6-20, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET
THE CIVIL WAR 25th ANNIVERSARY — Producer and director Ken Burns’s award-winning film THE CIVIL WAR will rebroadcast over five consecutive nights this month, coinciding with the 25th anniversary of its 1990 premiere. This is the first time the film will be in high definition, further enhancing the vision of Burns and his cinematographers Allen Moore and Buddy Squires more than 25 years ago. — Monday–Friday, September 7-11, 9:00-11:30 p.m. ET
“Walt Disney” on AMERICAN EXPERIENCE — Walt Disney was uniquely adept at art as well as commerce, a master filmmaker who harnessed the power of technology and storytelling. This new two-part, four-hour film offers an unprecedented look at Disney’s complex life and enduring legacy, featuring rare archival footage from the Disney vaults, scenes from some of his greatest films and interviews with biographers, animators and artists who worked on early films, including Snow White, and the designers who helped turn his dream of Disneyland into reality. — Monday-Tuesday, September 14-15, 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET
AMERICAN MASTERS “Pedro E. Guerrero: A Photographer’s Journey” — Discover the remarkable life and work of Pedro E. Guerrero, a Mexican American born and raised in segregated Mesa, Arizona, who had an extraordinary, international photography career. Using Guerrero’s words and images, the program explores his collaborations with three of the most iconic American artists of the 20th century: Frank Lloyd Wright and sculptors Alexander Calder and Louise Nevelson. This film is a special co-presentation with VOCES. — Friday, September 18, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET
“Cutie and the Boxer”
An Oscar®-nominated reflection on love, sacrifice and the creative spirit, this candid New York tale explores the chaotic 40-year marriage of famed “boxing” painter Ushio Shinohara and artist Noriko Shinohara. — Friday, September 18, 10:00-11:30 p.m. ET
“Don’t Tell Anyone” (“No Le Digas a Nadie”) — Meet immigrant activist Angy Rivera, the country’s only advice columnist for undocumented youth. In a community where silence is often seen as necessary for survival, she steps out of the shadows to share her own parallel experiences of being undocumented and sexually abused. — Monday, September 21, 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET
“Art and Craft”
The jig is up for art forger Mark Landis, who has donated his expert copies to museums for 30 years. But stopping isn’t simple. This cat-and-mouse caper uncovers the universal in one man’s search for connection and respect. —Friday, September 25, 10:00-11:30 p.m. ET
ON TWO FRONTS: LATINOS & VIETNAM — Examine the Latino experience during a war that placed its heaviest burden on working-class youth and their communities. Framing the documentary are memoirs of two siblings, Everett and Delia Alvarez, who stood on opposite sides of the Vietnam War, one as a POW and the other protesting at home. — Tuesday, September 22, 10:00-11:30 p.m. ET
GORONGOSA PARK Rebirth of Paradise
Experience the inspiring rebirth of an African wilderness through the eyes of Emmy Award-winning wildlife cameraman Bob Poole. Darting lions, wrestling crocs, facing down angry elephants — it’s all part of a day’s work as he joins the battle to re-wild a legendary national park. — Tuesdays, September 22-October 6, 8:00-10:00 p.m. ET
“Nature’s Miracle Orphans” (w.t.) — Growing up in the wild is always rough — and young animals rely on their parents to protect and nurture them through the dangerous early phase of life. But how do young animals survive when they’ve lost their mothers? This heartwarming, emotional series follows the work of animal rescue centers around the world and introduces the extraordinary people who have devoted their lives to helping all kinds of wild orphans get back on their feet. — Wednesdays, September 23-30, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET
AMERICAN MASTERS “The Women’s List” — Hear from 15 women who created and defined contemporary American culture in the newest chapter of filmmaker Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ “List” series (“The Boomer List,” “The Black List,” “The Latino List,” “The Out List”). This film features interviews with Madeleine Albright, Gloria Allred, Laurie Anderson, Sara Blakely, Margaret Cho, Edie Falco, Betsey Johnson, Alicia Keys, Aimee Mullins, Nancy Pelosi, Rosie Perez, Shonda Rhimes, Wendy Williams and Nia Woodlaw. — Friday, September 25, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET
MASTERPIECE “Indian Summers” — Julie Walters plays the glamorous doyenne of an English social club in the twilight of British rule in India. The lavish 9-part series explores the collision of the English ruling class and local people agitating for Indian independence. The two sides alternately clash and merge in intricate games of power, politics and passion. Also starring are Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Jemima West, Nikesh Patel, Roshan Seth and Lillete Dubey. — Sundays, September 27-November 15, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET and November 22, 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET
I’LL HAVE WHAT PHIL’S HAVING — Journey with Phil Rosenthal, creator of the TV hit “Everybody Loves Raymond,” as he learns from the chefs, vendors, culinary leaders and style-setters who keep their communities’ traditions alive and create new ones. Rosenthal visits kitchens on and off the well-worn gastronomic path, leading viewers from one of the least expensive Michelin-starred restaurants in Asia to a Los Angeles bakery training former gang members. — Mondays, September 28-November 2, 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET
E.O. WILSON – OF ANTS AND MEN — An exploration of the remarkable life and groundbreaking ideas of biologist E.O. Wilson, founder of the discipline of sociobiology, world authority on insects and Pulitzer-prize winning writer on the subject of human nature. In Wilson, we see an endearing personality who is one of the great scientists and thinkers of our time. — Wednesday, September 30, 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET
OCTOBER ON PBS
POV “Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case”
This stunning dissection of the persecution of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei explores how the government’s attempts to silence him have backfired and turned him into an irrepressible voice for free speech and human rights around the globe. — Friday, October 2, 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET
THE WIDOWER – This drama is the true story of Malcolm Webster, a nurse by profession and, on the surface, a perfect gentleman: well-spoken, personable and charming. He’s also a spendthrift and killer. He marries, and attempts to kill, a succession of women to cash in their life insurance policies. — Sundays, October 4-18, 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET
“Big Birds Can’t Fly” (w.t.) — This is the unique story of flightless birds. They say a bird is three things — feathers, flight and song. But what happens when you’re a bird who can’t fly, who can’t sing and whose feathers are closer to fluff? Is this an evolutionary joke? Flightless birds include ostriches, emus, rheas, cassowaries and kiwis; all have evolved independent of each other on different continents. — Wednesday, October 7, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET
“Soul of the Elephant” (w.t.) — Ironically, every dead elephant with its ivory intact is a reason to celebrate. It means an elephant died of natural causes, not bullets, snares or poison, and a soul was allowed to be celebrated and mourned by its herd. Award-winning filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert start with the remains of two bull elephants and, through a series of key flashbacks, look at the lives they would have led, the dramas they may have seen, their great migrations for water with their families and their encounters with lions and hyenas. — Wednesday, October 14, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET
“Pets: Wild at Heart” (w.t.) — From the award-winning team that brought us “Earthflight” and “Penguins: Spy in the Huddle” comes a revolutionary look at our pets. Our pets may seem familiar, but they exist alongside us in a secret world of wild behavior and natural abilities that we hardly recognize. This two-part series explores this parallel existence with all the techniques that have been perfected in past “spy” shows, including HD spy cameras, night vision cameras, drones, miniature on-board cameras and digital high-speed cameras. — Wednesdays, October 21-28, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET
PBS ARTS FALL FESTIVAL—Host Gloria Estefan will kick of the festival on October 9. Program order to be announced.
THE BRAIN WITH DAVID EAGLEMAN — Neuroscientist David Eagleman explores the human brain in an epic series that reveals the ultimate story of us, why we feel and think the things we do. This ambitious project blends science with innovative visual effects and compelling personal stories, and addresses some big questions. By understanding the human brain, we can come close to understanding humanity. — Wednesdays, October 14-November 18, 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET
“Nepal Earthquake” (w.t.) — On April 25, 2015, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake ripped through Nepal, causing catastrophic damage, shaking Mount Everest, and leaving thousands dead. NOVA tells the story of this chilling disaster and unwraps the science behind earth’s deadly quakes. – Wednesday, October 28, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET
NOVEMBER ON PBS
EARTH’S NATURAL WONDERS — Explore the most extraordinary places on the planet in this three-part series. Visit six continents to learn how these natural wonders evolved and hear rarely told stories about the challenges their inhabitants face. — Wednesdays, November 4-18, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET
“Making North America” — This unprecedented, 3-part series presents a bold and sweeping biography of our homeland. How was it built? How did life evolve? How did the landscape shape us? Host Kirk Johnson embarks on an epic road trip to uncover the clues just beneath our feet. – Wednesdays, November 4-18, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET
AMERICAN EPIC — In the 1920s, record company scouts toured America with the first electric recording machine and captured the raw expression of an emerging culture. The filmmakers follow the scouts’ trail to rediscover the families whose music was recorded: early blues, country, gospel, Hawaiian, Cajun and folk, without which there would be no rock, pop, R&B or hip hop. Over three episodes, the remarkable lives of seminal musicians materialize in previously unseen film footage, unpublished photographs and exclusive interviews with some of the last living witnesses to that era. — Tuesdays, November 10, 8:00-10:00 p.m. ET, and November 17, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET.
THE AMERICAN EPIC SESSIONS — The filmmakers, working with engineer Nick Bergh, have meticulously re-assembled the machine that allowed America to first hear itself. They have replicated the atmosphere of America’s seminal 1920s field recordings down to the smallest detail, with top American artists recording live to disc, using all the original microphones, amplifiers and other equipment from that era. This is the first time that any performer has been able to use this machinery in more than 80 years. Led by Jack White and T Bone Burnett, today’s legends are given a once-in-a-lifetime chance to re-live the experience of the founding mothers and fathers, their idols, and remake the music that changed America and changed the world. – Tuesday, November 17, 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET
EDDIE MURPHY: THE KENNEDY CENTER MARK TWAIN PRIZE — This special honors comedian and actor Eddie Murphy, the latest recipient of The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. From the stage of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, a lineup of the biggest names in comedy salutes the 18th recipient of the humor prize. — Monday, November 23, 9:00-10:30 p.m. ET
“The Pilgrims” on AMERICAN EXPERIENCE — Acclaimed filmmaker Ric Burns explores the converging forces, circumstances, personalities and events that propelled a group of English men and women west across the Atlantic in 1620. With distinct and riveting personal histories, passionate religious beliefs and the will to survive — even through violent means — these first immigrants reveal the history of our nation’s beginnings. — Tuesday, November 24, 8:00-10:00 p.m. ET
“India’s Daughter” —This film pays tribute to the remarkable short life of Jyoti Singh and documents the brutality of her gang rape and murder in Delhi in December 2012. Recently banned in India, the powerful documentary explores the compelling human stories behind the incident and examines the root causes of violence against women in India.
“No More Babies for Life” — Investigate the plight of Mexican-American women who were coercively sterilized at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center during the late 1960s and 1970s. Many spoke no English and were urged to have surgical procedures — often based on little more than the question “More babies?” The film follows a group of mothers, young Chicana lawyers and a whistle-blowing doctor who dared to stand up to powerful institutions in the name of justice.
“Stray Dog” — Winter’s Bone director Debra Granik’s stereotype-shattering documentary focuses on Ron “Stray Dog” Hall as he caravans on his motorcycle from his rural Missouri home to Washington, DC, with his fellow vets to pay tribute to his fallen brothers at the Vietnam Memorial. Back home, Ron and his Mexican wife, Alicia, help her two newly arrived teenage sons find their place in America. “Stray Dog” is at once a powerful look at the veteran experience, a surprising love story and a fresh exploration of what it takes to survive in the hardscrabble heartland.
PBS LearningMedia, a digital library of more than 100,000 resources for educators and students, will offer classrooms a host of educational resources, including video clips and interactives that inspire learning, from GORONGOSA PARK, THE BRAIN WITH DAVID EAGLEMAN, AMERICAN EPIC, KEN BURNS’S CIVIL WAR, EARTH’S NATURAL WONDERS and NOVA “Making North America.” Ken Burns will also speak directly to students in classrooms around the nation about the CIVIL WAR in an educational webinar hosted by PBS LearningMedia this fall.