PBS preps factual slate, Rita Moreno and George W. Bush docs

American pubcaster PBS unveiled a slate of factual projects today during the Television Critics Association press tour, including a new doc on EGOT winner Rita Moreno as part of the ...
July 29, 2019

American pubcaster PBS unveiled a slate of factual projects today during the Television Critics Association press tour, including a new doc on EGOT winner Rita Moreno as part of the ‘American Masters’ series, among other factual projects and partnerships.

Below is a list of projects announced by PBS for the coming year.

Rita Moreno: The Girl Who Decided to Go For It (w/t)

Puerto Rican actor Rita Moreno fought her way through class and racial oppression to become celebrated performer over a career spanning 70 years. Even after becoming the first Latina actress to win an Oscar for her role as Anita in West Side Story, Moreno had to fight against stereotyped casting to carve out better representation for Latinx actors in Hollywood.

Rita Moreno: The Girl Who Decided to Go For It retraces her steps, offering insight into her life and career, with new interviews with Moreno, Norman Lear, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Morgan Freeman, Whoopi Goldberg, Eva Longoria, Justina Machado, Terrence McNally, Chita Rivera and others.

The film, part of the ‘American Masters’ strand, is a production of American Masters Pictures and Act III in association with Maramara. Michael Kantor, Norman Lear, and Lin-Manuel Miranda executive produce. Brent Miller is producer. Ilia Velez is co-producer. Michael Kantor is executive producer of ‘American Master’.

“How I wish my Puerto Rican mother were alive to see this: her child’s story being celebrated by the likes of ‘American Masters’,” said Moreno in a statement. “It is not something she or I could ever have imagined. I’m astonished. I’m humbled.”

“Rita is La Reina. Punto. Full stop,” added Miranda. “Her life, talent and career is a masterclass in the American dream. It is about time that she takes her rightful place amongst her peers on ‘American Masters’.”

“As a filmmaker, woman and Puerto Rican, I am proud to have the opportunity to tell Rita’s story,” said director and producer Mariem Pérez Riera. “Her many victories in the face of prejudice are an inspiration to me. Hopefully, this film will give strength to the women all over the world, who today, face a similar fight towards equality.”


Meanwhile, the pubcaster’s ‘American Experience’ strand will chronicle the “unorthodox” political journey of former U.S. president George W. Bush in its ‘The Presidents’ collection. W (pictured) features interviews with historians and journalists, as well as members of Bush’s inner circle, such as chiefs of staff Andy Card and Josh Bolten, speechwriter David Frum and press secretary Ari Fleischeras.

The two-part documentary begins with the contested 2000 election, followed by a Supreme Court ruling to elect Bush as the nation’s 43rd president. Part two offers insight into the former president’s response after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the war in Iraq. Continuing through Bush’s second term, viewers see the impact of Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 financial crisis.

W, premiering Aug. 6, is written, produced and directed by Barak Goodman and executive produced by Mark Samuels. Susan Bellows serves as senior producer of ‘American Experience’.

“What makes George W. Bush such a fascinating subject is that he was one of the least prepared presidents in our history, yet faced some of the greatest challenges,” Goodman said. “Not since Lincoln has such an inexperienced leader been called upon in a moment of genuine existential crisis.”

Asian Americans

Asian Americans is a five-part docuseries that explores the impact of Asian American communities in shaping the country’s history and identity, representing the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in America.

“As America’s home for documentaries, PBS is committed to telling stories that illuminate and celebrate the rich diversity of our country,” said PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger in a statement. “We are proud to share this important series with our audiences, and to deepen understanding about the extraordinary impact of Asian Americans on our national identity.”

The series is a production of WETA Washington, DC, and the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) for PBS, in association with the Independent Television Service (ITVS), Flash Cuts and Tajima-Peña Productions. The series executive producers are Jeff Bieber and Dalton Delan for WETA; Stephen Gong and Donald Young for CAAM; Sally Jo Fifer for ITVS; and Jean Tsien. The series producer is Renee Tajima-Peña. The producer for Flash Cuts is Eurie Chung. The episode producers are S. Leo Chiang, Geeta Gandbhir and Grace Lee. The consulting producer is Mark Jonathan Harris.

Major funding for Asian Americans is provided by Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), Wallace H. Coulter Foundation, PBS, Ford Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, The Freeman Foundation, The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Kay Family Foundation, Long Family Foundation, Spring Wang and Cal Humanities.

Asian Americans is set to bow in May 2020.

Prehistoric Road Trip

Elsewhere, Emily Grasile, YouTube personality and chief curiosity correspondent at the Chicago-based Field Museum, will trek through the Dakotas, Montana, Nebraska and Wyoming in a new three-part natural history series titled Prehistoric Road Trip.

Produced by PBS member station WTTW Chicago, the docuseries aims to uncover the history of North American dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures such as ancient fishes, mammoths and early mammals.

Each 60-minute episode will explore different eras, focusing on geology, ecology and environment. To discover what the landscape may have resembled millions or even billions of years ago, Graslie examines the fossils of former plants and animals.

Prehistoric Road Trip, directed by Ally Gimbel, is slated to premier in the summer of 2020. Gimbel and Geoffrey Baer will executive produce the series, and Erin O’Flaherty will oversee the project for PBS.

YouTube TV partnership

Finally, the American pubcaster has secured a carriage partnership for its member stations with YouTube TV’s live and SVOD service.

The deal serves as the first digital partnership of its kind for PBS and further marks the broadcaster’s expansion into the digital marketplace.

The partnership launches later this year and enables YouTube TV to livestream all PBS member stations that choose to participate. Subscribers to YouTube TV will be able to access all PBS and PBS Kids content via the digital platform’s VOD and DVR services.

“Our goal is to reach as many Americans as possible with content that educates, inspires and entertains,” said PBS chief digital and marketing officer Ira Rubenstein, in a statement. “As a broadcaster that is rooted in communities, we appreciate YouTube’s commitment to local content, and we are pleased that this service provides audiences with access to programming that is produced and distributed by our member stations.”

“Audiences of all ages love and trust PBS, and today’s announcement demonstrates our commitment to delivering the best possible lineup for our subscribers,” added Lori Conkling, global head of partnerships at YouTube.

(Photo courtesy of PBS)

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.