PBS Press Tour news: doc channel coming to Amazon Prime; new projects from Ken Burns, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

PBS Distribution is launching a documentary-focused subscription channel via Amazon Prime Video. Launching August 4, PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel will feature nearly 1,000 hours “of critically acclaimed, thought-provoking programs” from across ...
July 29, 2020

PBS Distribution is launching a documentary-focused subscription channel via Amazon Prime Video.

Launching August 4, PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel will feature nearly 1,000 hours “of critically acclaimed, thought-provoking programs” from across PBS’s portfolio, including the ‘Independent Lens’, ‘POV’, ‘Nova’, ‘Frontline’, ‘American Experience’, ‘American Masters’, and ‘Nature’ strands.

At launch, the documentary channel will also encompass the entire Ken Burns (pictured) collection, including The Civil War and Country Music, as well as projects from such independent filmmakers as Stanley Nelson (The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution), Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts (For Sama) and Rory Kennedy (Last Days in Vietnam).

In addition, the entire Ken Burns catalog will also be made available via PBS Passport, available within the PBS Video App.

PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel is exclusively available in the U.S. to users with an Amazon Prime or Prime video subscription for US$3.99 per month.

“This channel will not only help bring engaging stories about life in all corners of our country to a new audience, it will provide needed revenues to sustain public broadcasting’s public-private partnership model for the benefit of all stations and the communities they serve,” said Andrea Downing, co-president of PBS Distribution, in a statement.

“We had long hoped to be able to have all of our films available in one place so the public would have access to the body of work,” added Burns. “We’re thrilled that this is now possible thanks to the efforts of PBS Distribution and Amazon to launch the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel and also through PBS’s Passport initiative that allows viewers to support their public television stations. Both will also contribute to the larger mission of PBS.”

The news came as the U.S. public broadcasting organization kicked off its Summer Virtual Press Tour on Tuesday (July 28), which will continue over the next two days. In speaking with reporters during a panel discussion with Paula Kerger and Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Burns said he is working on eight documentary projects at present with his team at Florentine Films, with one, a three-part, six-hour series on the life of author and journalist Ernest Hemingway, the closest to completion.

Next up, according to Burns, is a four-part, eight and a half-hour docuseries on the life of legendary boxer and activist Muhammad Ali, tentatively slated for delivery in the fall of 2021. That will be followed by a three-part, six-hour series, The United States and the Holocaust, which is set at present for some time in 2022, along with a two-part, four-hour, “warts and all” documentary on Benjamin Franklin.

In addition to these docs, which Burns said were in various stages of editing, the filmmaker also elaborated on several other projects in production: a “major series” on the history of the American Revolution which is being readied for 2025, in conjunction with the 250th anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord; a history of the buffalo which is intended to provide an inspirational look at a rare example of “deextinction”; and a look at U.S. President Lyndon Johnson and “The Great Society.” Burns also mentioned that he and his team have their first project centered on a non-American topic in the planning stages: a study of the life of Leonardo da Vinci.

PBS, WETA set Henry Louis Gates, Jr. docuseries

In other news, PBS and WETA have set a February premiere for the four-hour, two-part series The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song.

The series, from executive producer, host and writer Henry Louis Gates, Jr., traces the 400-year-old story of the Black church in America.

The documentary examines how Black people have, through their spiritual journeys, found ways to “bring their faith traditions from Africa to the New World,” while translating those traditions into a form of Christianity that was “not only truly their own, but a redemptive force.”

Interview subjects include Oprah Winfrey; John Legend; Jennifer Husdon; presiding Bishop Michael Curry of The Episcopal Church; gospel performers Yolanda Adams, Pastor Shirley Caesar and BeBe Winans; and civil rights leaders Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. William Barber II; and scholar Cornel West.

The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song is a production of McGee Media, Inkwell Media and WETA Washington.

Dyllan McGee is executive producer; John F. Wilson is executive producer in charge for WETA. Bill Gardner is the executive in charge for PBS.

Stacey L. Holman is the series producer and director. Christopher Bryson and Shayla Harris serve as  producer/directors.

Deborah C. Porfido is the supervising producer. Kevin Burke is producer. Robery L. Yachyshyn is the line producer. Christine Fall is the archival producer.

During the panel presentation on Tuesday, Gates also discussed several projects he has underway with PBS, which include: Making Black America, a look at the social networks Black Americans have created to “define their agency”; an exploration of the history of Black social protest; and a look at the history of, and intersection between, race and medicine.

Mr. SOUL! heads to ‘Independent Lens’

PBS strand ‘Independent Lens” will premiere Mr. SOUL! this winter 2021, more than 50 years after America’s first Black variety show SOUL! aired on public television.

SOUL!, helmed by producer and eventual host Ellis Haizlip, ran for six years.

In Mr. SOUL!, filmmaker Melissa Haizlip — the niece of Ellis — weaves archival footage and interviews with numerous Black luminaires who appeared on SOUL!, or were impacted by it.

Winner of the Best Music Documentary at the IDA Documentary Awards and the Audience Award for Best Feature at AFI Docs in 2018, Mr. SOUL! will premiere on this season of PBS’s anthology documentary series.

While chronicling the journey of SOUL!, Melissa recounts the life and contributions of the late Ellis.

Initially produced for New York public television, SOUL! with its singular focus on the Black community, became a “nationwide forum” to showcase African Americans’ contribution to the arts.

By 1970, the weekly show — each episode a mix of performances and interviews — was broadcast by 72 PBS affiliates across the country. This film charts SOUL! from inception through its rise as a cultural force to its final episode in 1973, after the series lost public funding.

Narrated by Blair Underwood, Mr. SOUL! features archival performances from the likes of Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire, and Patti Labelle, as well as spoken word performances from the Last Poets and Sonia Sanchez, dance numbers from Carmen de Lavallade and interviews with James Baldwin, Muhammed Ali and Maya Angelou, among many others. Artists such as Harry Belafonte, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and actress Kathleen Cleaver also share their recollections about the show and its impact on them.

Melissa serves as director, writer and producer. Sam Pollard is co-director.

Blair Underwood and Chaz Ebert are executive producers. Doug Blush is co-producer.

Leonard Joseph is associate producer; Laurens Grant is consulting producer.

(With files from Daniele Alcinii, Jillian Morgan and Barry Walsh)

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