TCA: PBS reveals 2020 slate, kicks off 50th anniversary

American pubcaster PBS has launched its multi-platform storytelling project “American Portrait” at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena Friday (Jan. 10), along with a raft of programs and ...
January 10, 2020

American pubcaster PBS has launched its multi-platform storytelling project “American Portrait” at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena Friday (Jan. 10), along with a raft of programs and initiatives slated for 2020.

The project will serve as the signature programming for the pubcaster’s 50th anniversary.

Produced by RadicalMedia, “American Portrait” begins as a platform for “user-generated content participation” and is envisioned to encompass publishing, short-form content, classroom engagement, a web miniseries, public art installations, live events and a documentary series in January 2021.

Beyond the online submissions and digital portals, the American Portrait docuseries will commission artists in several markets to explore “what it means to be American” through collaborations such as installations and artist-curated story features.

PBS member stations will also collect stories in their communities and tap into schools, libraries and other community organizations to create opportunities for people to share their stories locally and through the platform.

Additionally, an original digital miniseries slated for spring 2020 will explore the project’s central question: “What does it really mean to be an American today?”

Danielle Bainbridge, host of PBS’s Origin of Everything, will travel across the country for the miniseries to understand the people, landmarks and stories that capture the modern American experience. She will be joined by artists, scholars and YouTube personalities. The digital series will be published across PBS Digital Studios’ YouTube, Facebook Watch and IGTV platforms.

For RadicalMedia, Jon Kamen and Dave Sirulnick serve as executive producers, and Naomi Gilbert is the senior interactive producer for the web platform. Craig D’Entrone is executive producing for RadicalMedia and is showrunner on the project. Bill Margol is the executive in charge for PBS.

PBS unveils its spring lineup

The American pubcaster, meanwhile, is bolstering its spring programming lineup with 14.5 hours of new series and specials as part of PBS’s health-based initiative.

Through investigative research, expert testimony and first-hand accounts, the line-up will spotlight human physical and mental health, as well as a variety of diseases, via programs that examine the science of how the human brain and body work.

Anchoring the network’s spring schedule will be a new Antiques Roadshow (pictured) special titled “Treasure Fever” (April 6 at 8 p.m. ET/PT) that will examine artifacts and artistry of health and medicine history; Broken Places (April 6 at 10 p.m. ET/PT), which explores why some children are severely damaged by early adversity while others thrive; The Gene: An Intimate History (April 7 and 14 at 9 p.m. ET/PT), which reveals the historical search for the human genome and the promise of modern research; and Blood Sugar Rising (April 15 at 9 p.m. ET/PT), which investigates the history and science of diabetes.

PBS science strand ‘NOVA,’ meanwhile, will premiere The Truth About Fat on April 8 (9 p.m. ET/PT). The special explores the mysteries of fat and the role it plays in hormone production, hunger and pregnancy.

Elsewhere, ‘Independent Lens’ will broadcast Bedlam on April 13 (10 p.m. ET/PT), offering a deep dive into the national health crisis of mental illness; and ‘American Experience’ will air The Man Who Tried to Feed the World on April 21 (9 p.m. ET/PT), which explores the life and career of 1970 Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug, who attempted to solve world hunger.

On April 21 at 10 p.m. ET/PT, investigative documentary strand ‘Frontline’ will launch the tentatively titled Merchants of Pain, which probes the corruption behind Insys Therapeutics and how the pharmaceutical company bribed doctors to prescribe an addictive opioid painkiller, while ‘Independent Lens’ will roll out Jim Allison: Breakthrough on April 27 at 10 p.m. ET/PT, which profiles the Noble Prize winner on his decades-long quest to find a cure for cancer.

PBS to honor women in its summer programming slate

PBS will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote in the U.S., with a slate of multi-platform content.

The pubcaster’s summer programming slate includes And She Could Be Next, part of documentary strand ‘POV,’ the mutlimedia series Unladylike2020 on ‘American Masters,’ and the tentatively titled special Firing Line with Margaret Hoover, among other titles.

‘American Experience’s The Vote will tell the story of the campaign waged by American women for the right to vote, exploring how and why millions of 20th century Americans mobilized for — and against — women’s suffrage.

The two-part ‘POV’ miniseries And She Could Be Next follows candidates and organizers across the U.S. to explore whether democracy can be preserved and strengthened by the most marginalized.

In the 2 x 30-minute Firing Line with Margaret Hoover (w/t), the political strategist and commentator documents what motivated conservative women to run for office and the challenges they face.

Unladylike2020, produced and directed by Charlotte Mangin, consists of a one-hour special for broadcast and 26 digital shorts featuring female trailblazers from the turn of the 20th century.

The Emmy Award-winning ‘American Masters’ strand will return with two new installments: the two-hour film Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, which reflects on the life of the late Nobel Prize-winning author; and Mae West: Dirty Blonde, a 90-minute program about the late American actress.

Long-time series Antiques Roadshow will return this summer with a special episode titled “Women’s Work,” spotlighting contributions from female athletes, artists and activists.

PBS and British pubcaster BBC will also premiere the three-episode, three-hour miniseries Royal History’s Myths and Secrets with Lucy Worsley, in which Worsley investigates how Royal history is a “mixture of facts, exaggerations, manipulation and mythology.”

Lastly, PBS will encore Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts’ acclaimed documentary For Sama, which documents Al-Kateab’s experience through the Syrian war.

PBS commissions one-off doc East Lake Meadows

Elsewhere, the pubcaster has ordered a new documentary from Sarah Burns and David McMahon.

East Lake Meadows: A Public Housing Story explores the public housing project opened by the Atlanta Housing Authority in 1970 and demolished a generation later.

The film tackles the impact of racism on housing, including social stigma and maintenance of living spaces, while also delving into the daily lives of the people who called East Lake Meadows home.

Funding for East Lake Meadows: A Public Housing Story was provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS and public television viewers.

The doc is produced by Florentine Films and WETA Washington, DC. It was written, produced and directed by Burns and McMahon, executive produced by Ken Burns, co-produced by Stephanie Jenkins and associate produced by Tim McAleer. WETA executives-in-charge are Dalton Delan and John F. Wilson.

East Lake Meadows premieres March 24 on PBS.

Sylvia Bugg appointed as VP of programming

In other PBS news, Sylvia Bugg has been appointed vice president of programming.

In her new role, Bugg will oversee the general audience programming editorial team and lead the strategy across all genres, including news, public affairs, documentaries, history, science, natural history and arts programs.

She previously served as VP of diversity and TV content at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and has held several positions at PBS since 1993, including director of general audience programming.

She will start the new position on Feb. 10.

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