For its 50th anniversary, PBS is painting a portrait of America through diverse stories and several features on inspirational women.
PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger discussed the network’s upcoming year during Friday morning’s executive session at the Television Critics Association 2020 Winter Press tour in Pasadena. Chief among PBS projects is “PBS American Portrait,” which will gather first-person narratives from Americans throughout the country. Kerger said that PBS would leverage the broadcaster’s numerous local stations to connect with everyday Americans and share their stories.
“American Portrait is a digital-first national storytelling project that invites people to participate in a conversation about what it really means to be an American today,” Kerger said during her executive session. “PBS will gather the stories through photo, video, and written submissions. We will then share and amplify those stories through digital platforms, events, and educational resources for classrooms, as well as a multi-part broadcast event in 2021. Throughout the year we will partner with our member stations to bring American portrait into communities in a way that only public television can do.”
Kerger also discussed a string of upcoming health-focused PBS projects that will premiere this spring. “Blood Sugar Rising” will center on the diabetes epidemic and premieres on April 15, while “Bedlam” will focus on the national health crisis and mental illness and will debut in early April. Ken Burns’ “The Gene,” which centers on the evolution of medical science, will also premiere in early April.
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PBS is also gearing up to release new installments in its long-running “Great Performances” anthology series on performing arts later in the year, and its next two releases will focus on feminist leaders and suffragists. Christine Lahti will lead an all-female cast in “Gloria: A Life” and portray the life of noted journalist and feminist activist Gloria Steinem, while “Ann” will offer a portrait of former Texas governor Ann Richards and stars Holland Taylor.
Other upcoming women-focused PBS projects include “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am,” a two-hour film that focuses on the Nobel Prize-winning author. The 90-minute “Mae West: Dirty Blonde” will center on the 20th century writer’s life and career.
PBS Kids is also continuing to create new scripted content. “Donkey Hodie” is slated to premiere on PBS Stations and the PBS Kids 24/7 channel and digital platforms in winter 2021. The puppet series will focus on the the granddaughter of the original Donkey Hodie character from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
Kerger noted that PBS is committed to expanding to new platforms as streaming continues to grow in popularity but did not discuss specifics. More than 100 PBS member stations began streaming live on YouTube in December 2019, but Kerger said it was too early to determine how successful that venture has been.