PBS Has Great Shows and Familiar Faces, Including Billie Jean King

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Billie Jean King.

Billie Jean King.

In our home, if we couldn’t tune in PBS we’d sell our TV. It seems on any given night, when we want to watch excellent dramas, documentaries, and news programs that keep us entertained and informed, we’re usually tuned into our local PBS SoCal station.

During the PBS portion of the recent television critics’ TCA press tour at the Beverly Hilton, we got a glimpse of the great shows and superb talent featured on the network’s schedule between now and the end of the year. We also had the opportunity to talk to the filmmakers and executives who put the shows on the air. And the diversity of talent that paraded by us included Cookie Monster, Billie Jean King, Keanu Reeves, Rita Moreno, the guys from the rock band Journey, the ladies of Downton Abbey, and so many more.

Signature series such as American Masters, Great Performances, Nature, all have exciting new offerings, including a couple of significant miniseries within those umbrella titles. One not to be missed is “The Hollow Crown” series from Great Performances, which premieres Sept. 20, and features the contemporary master of Shakespearean performances Tom Hiddleston. The super-hot actor was Loki in Thor and The Avengers blockbusters, and he has even more charisma as he takes us through Henry IV and Henry V with a deep compelling understanding of The Bard’s words and how they are relatable today.

Coming very soon is a special American Masters featuring Billie Jean King. The tennis icon held court during an interview session to support her American Masters profile airing Sept. 10. It was impressive to see her as she reinforced her image as a dynamic and determined woman who has been a major force in changing the cultural landscape, and not just in sports.

Billie Jean King.

Billie Jean King.

The 90-minute documentary looks back to the days when the 12-year-old Southern California girl played tennis on public courts and soared athletically, yet never stopped trying to remedy inequality in her sport. Her competitiveness on the tennis circuit was matched by her efforts on behalf of women and her commitment to prove there’s strength in diversity.

In interviews, King presents her own story with perspective from Serena and Venus Williams, Hillary Clinton, Sir Elton John, Maria Sharapova, members of the Virginia Slims Circuit “Original 9” including Rosie Casals, Gloria Steinem, Chris Evert, Margaret Court, Bobby Riggs’ son Larry, family, friends, and many others.

Sitting down with King for the interview was American Masters’ creator and executive producer Susan Lacy, who noted that Billie Jean is “the first sports figure I’ve chosen to profile. Also on hand was the documentary filmmaker James Erskine who traces Billie Jean’s incredible life as her 70th birthday nears. It commemorates two 40th anniversaries: the 40th anniversaries of the King vs. Riggs The Battle of the Sexes match, and the founding of the Women’s Tennis Association by King.”

When asked “What do you remember about the ’70s?” King said, “I was tired. I was exhausted every moment. But God gave me extra energy, so I’m very fortunate.” Of course she talked about playing Bobby Riggs and being labeled a “women’s libber.” King said playing Riggs was not for fun, “It was huge, but it was about equality. It was very symbolic of the women’s movement and what we were trying to do. Title IX (equal opportunity for girls’ sports program scholarships) had just been passed so I wanted to start to change the hearts and minds of people.”

King revealed that she and Riggs were “great friends up to the very last moment. I used to tell him this match was about history and about change, and he’d say, ‘Honey, it’s about money.’ But the night before he passed away, we were on the phone and I said, ‘Bobby, you know I really care about you.’ And he goes, ‘I guess we really did make a difference, didn’t we?’ And I thought, ‘Thanks to God.’ And then he passed away the next day.”

At this stage of her life King’s greatest wish is for women to be “financially independent.” Amen, no one could double fault her for that.

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