PBS documentary strand ‘American Experience’ has lined up a four-hour, two-part documentary set to explore the history of the Big Top.
Slated to air in the fall, The Circus begins with the first one-ring show at the end of the 18th century, and spans the popular entertainment form to the 1956 final show for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. The documentary series will tell the stories of P.T. Barnum, James Bailey and the five Ringling Brothers, and how they ushered in a uniquely American phenomenon.
The Circus also explores reinvention, acceptance, and the notions of race and Western dominance that played into the circuses’ “dangerous” and “exotic” attractions.
The Circus bows October 8 and 9 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on PBS.
“Appealing to both urban and rural parts of the country, and to people from all walks of life, the circus helped forge a common American culture and identity,” said Samels in a statement. “It was an unprecedented combination of cutting-edge marketing, military-like organization and supreme artistry. The circus was where you could reinvent yourself, which is why so many ran away to join it. With the recent closing of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the series offers a fascinating look back at this distinctly American entertainment.”