Peeking ahead to PBS’ fall schedule, one thing is clear:
These people are serious. Other networks may have become a bit lighter and brighter and simpler, but you won’t find that here.
In a three-day stretch of virtual press sessions, PBS took the Television Critics Association through imposing subjects, from Muhammad Ali (shown here) to the aftershocks of Sept. 11.
Yes, the network can sometimes be fun – especially on Sundays, when it has dramas and (on Aug. 29) a concert version of “Wicked.” But often, it will be serious, including:
The season officially starts (Sept. 19-22) with PBS’ strength – a Ken Burns documentary. This one has eight hours on Muhammad Ali, tracing the man who went from champion to outcast to champion again … and then to being the best-known person on Planet Earth.
It’s beautifully crafted, but so is a four-hour profile of publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst (Sept. 27-28). And three films will profile pioneering women – Sandra Day O’Connor (Sept. 13), Rita Moreno (Oct. 5) and Helen Keller (Oct. 19).
Racial issues ripple through the Ali profile and several other films.
“American Reckoning” (Oct. 12) looks at the list of 151 unsolved murders since the start of the civil rights era, focusing on Wharlest Jackson, an NAACP leader in Mississippi. And two films involve police and the deaths of Black men: “Police on Trial” (Nov. 2) starts in Minneapolis in 2020; “Ferguson Rises” (Nov. 8) starts in Missouri in 2014.
Ethnic issues also impact some films with Hispanic subjects. “Fruits of Labor,” viewing a teen activist, is Oct. 4, one day before the Moreno film. “America Exile” (Nov. 16) views two brothers, both Vietnam veterans, who face being deported.
Sexual orientation and gender issues
“Cured” (Oct. 11) looks at psychiatrists and activists who began pushing in the 1970s to have homosexuality no longer be treated as a mental disorder.
And transphobia plays a role in two tragic stories – “Things We Dare Not Do” (Oct. 25) and “North By Current” (Nov. 1).
The World Trade Center attack
One film – “America After 9/11” (Sept. 5) – takes a broad view. Another – “Generation 9/ll” (Aug. 31) – is intimate, with moving portraits of seven people born after their fathers died in the attacks.
“The Cannabis Question” (Sept. 29) views effects of marijuana legalization. “American Veteran” (starting Oct. 29) is a four-week look at the full experience, from boot camp to post-military life.