Realizing that even the heartiest of television journalists could not handle too many days as manic as the Netflix day that kicked off the Television Critics Association conference yesterday, the TCA is wisely following up with a few relatively restful sessions of PBS programming. PBS CEO Paula Kerger kicked things off by announcing that PBS will offer a free 24-7 multicast, “the only free national TV service available to America’s children,” in January 2017. That month will also see the debut of Divided States Of America, a Frontline miniseries that will examine the shitshow the newly elected 45th president of the U.S. will have to deal with.
PBS staple Ken Burns will offer a moving new documentary called Defying The Nazis: The Sharps’ War, which debuts September 20; Tom Hanks narrates the story of a couple who helped get children out of Europe during World War II. The filmmakers—Burns and the couple’s grandson, Artemis Joukowsky—utilized private detectives to help track down the survivors to include their interviews in the film. In April, the six-hour mini-series The Great War will tackle the world’s previous globe-threatening conflict.
But there was a major reason that the TCA-ers got up early, and that was to attend the panel involving Hamilton. Kerger stated that “We will be taking Hamilton, and working with Lin-Manuel [Miranda] and his wonderful colleagues, and bring Hamilton into the classroom as well.” One of these efforts will be the debut of “Hamilton’s America” on Great Performances on Friday, October 21. Director Alex Horwitz and Hamilton star Daveed Diggs discussed the efforts behind that documentary, which includes interviews with not just Hamilton composer Miranda, as well as Diggs and other cast members, but politicians and lawmakers on how the musical translates the history of the country. As “the issues that Hamilton fought for that are still timely today,” Horwitz asked Presidents Obama and Bush, and a few secretaries of the treasury, to contribute. “A lot of people love Hamilton,” the director said. “I am happy to exploit that as a filmmaker.” And such is the love for Hamilton that “they all said yes.” The documentary also takes Miranda and other cast members to some of the actual historic sites where the events of Hamilton occurred, a.k.a, “the room where it happened.”
Miranda greeted the TCA with a pre-taped message, in which he recounted his first job as an intern at PBS station WNET. It was also announced that he will be the host of the PBS Arts Fall Festival. Other Great Performances this year will include Gypsy with Imelda Staunton and Shakespeare Live! From The Royal Shakespeare Company, with Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, and Benedict Cumberbatch, which will hopefully hold non-comics fans over until the next season of Sherlock is announced.
In a crowd of such hard-hitting journalists, naturally the PBS CEO was asked about the July 4th controversy this year, when PBS re-ran old fireworks footage when bad weather prevented live fireworks from being viewed on camera. Kerger was forthright: “If a decision is made to make something like that not live, it should be labeled as such. The producer made a mistake. This is PBS: I think people trust us to be accurate, and in this case, it was not.” Since Kerger was in D.C., she figured out the discrepancy pretty quickly: “I knew what I was seeing, and it was not that. You really couldn’t see anything, because of the clouds.”