When a network offers a simple but monumental show by the master of documentary filmmaking, you know it must be PBS. It is a place to go for excellence. Of course I’m referring to The Address, Ken Burns’ new film that premiered last week (check your listings for additional airings). It tells the story of a tiny school in Putney, Vermont, where each year the students are encouraged to memorize and recite the Gettysburg Address. The film unlocks the history, context and importance of President Lincoln’s most powerful address.
Burns believes it would enrich all of our lives if we learned Lincoln’s famous speech and a website companion to the show has been set up (www.learntheaddress.org) that invites people to submit videos of themselves reciting the Gettysburg Address. Young and old, famous and ordinary folks have done it, and have called it an uplifting experience, well worth the effort.
Also on PBS is a sizzling schedule of shows that have been announced for this summer. It spans generations and genres, with highlights that include star-studded dramas on Sundays, and fascinating independent films and documentaries. From examinations of our nation’s history to our connections to the animal kingdom, and escapes to Britain’s courtrooms and countryside, PBS offers diverse series and specials for all viewers.
Returning favorites this summer feature the second season of “Endeavour” on Masterpiece Mystery; the perennial Independence Day celebration A Capitol Fourth; and engrossing documentaries from POV. New specials include American Experience: Freedom Summer, and a documentary on the infamous Al Capone will bring the past to life.
“From acclaimed returning series to new thought-provoking specials, this summer offers a fresh slate of programs that will have audiences tuning in night after night to PBS,” said Beth Hoppe, PBS’ chief programming executive. “We have hit a strong programming stride year-round, and built a dedicated home on PBS member stations for a vast array of new, quality programming across our key genres of drama, science and natural history, history, arts and independent film.”
British dramas and comedies continue to hold court on Sunday nights. David Tennant (“Doctor Who”) opens the Masterpiece Mystery season with “The Escape Artist” on June 15. Tennant stars as a brilliant defense lawyer with a storybook family and a potent nickname, “The Escape Artist,” for his ability to spring the obviously guilty. Then he gets a trial that changes his life forever. The legal thriller costars Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda) as the hero’s rival, along with a courtroom full of ambitious attorneys and one very unnerving defendant.
A double-dose of the great actor Derek Jacobi comes with the Season 2 premiere of the dramedy Last Tango in Halifax and the new comedy Vicious, starring Ian McKellen opposite Jacobi. The second season of Masterpiece Mystery’s “Endeavour” begins on Sunday, June 29, continuing the “Inspector Morse” prequel starring Shaun Evans.
It is reassuring that PBS stays committed to presenting timely programming with films that look at history, both distant and up-to-the-minute. Fifty years later, American Experience’s “Freedom Summer” (premiering June 24) looks back at the violent summer of 1964 in Mississippi, when over 700 student volunteers joined civil rights organizers and local citizens to shatter segregation. The Monday, June 16, premiere of the documentary American Pharaoh follows the Egyptian National Football Team, its American coach Bob Bradley, and its quest to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. On Tuesday, June 17, Emmy-winning actress Patricia Clarkson narrates a behind-the-scenes program of Ken Burns’ upcoming family epic The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.
Secrets of Underground London premieres Sunday, June 22, following its popular predecessors with a look into one of England’s most storied landmarks. The long-running History Detectives returns Tuesdays in July in a new format called History Detectives Special Investigations. Riveting hour-long episodes will look in-depth at major international “cold cases,” from Glenn Miller to Jimmy Hoffa. Also returning is Secrets of the Dead on Wednesdays, with interesting new episodes including “The Other Mona Lisa,” a look at the analysis of a rumored secret Leonardo da Vinci painting that depicts a younger version of his iconic subject. On Friday, August 8, for the first time on film, The Royal Paintbox gives viewers a rare glimpse at artwork produced by British royal family members over the centuries. All on our local PBS SoCal/KOCE station.