The face on the screen was familiar and re-assuring.
Yes, this may be the TV season people dread, with two strikes and an overload of reality shows. But there was Ken Burns, via Zoom, reminding us that PBS is as strong as ever.
Burns has been making prize-winning documentaries for four decades.. All of them, he said, came with “no marketing decisions, no focus panels, … just whatever lands in our hearts or our guts.”
Coming next (Oct. 16-17) is a portrait of the Amrican buffalo (shown here). The first half, he admits, is “incredibly difficult to watch.” Still, both halves are richly crafted and deeply moving.
That provides a neat consolation: As awful as this TV season may be, PBS seems to be in fine shape. Here’s an updated look at what’s coming, with details through October and a few glimpses ahead:
— Three mystery series have already started their six-Sunday runs, with opposite approaches. “Professor T” (8 p.m.) has a separate story each week, but is pointing toward a high-stakes finale on Oct. 8. “Unforgotten” (9) has a single, complex tale that concludes that night. “Van der Valk” has three two-week stories, the last of which start Oct. 1.
— On Oct. 15, another mystery series (“Annika,” 10 p.m.) will be preceded by sprawling period dramas. “Hotel Portofino” (8 p.m.) is set in a resort catering to the English — in Italy, as fascism rises. “World on Fire” follows an Englishman and his wife, in the Polish resistance during World War II.
— January turns lighter, with “All Creatures Great and Small” and “Miss Scarlet and the Duke.”
— “Becoming Frida Kahlo” traces Kahlo’s fascinating life – from her marriage to Diego Rivera to her own ascendance as an artist. That’s 9 p.m. Tuesdays, Sept. 19, Sept. 26 and Oct. 3.
— “American Masters” has a string of portraits, at 9 p.m. Fridays. It will be defense attorney Floyd Abrams at 9 p.m., Sept. 22; Cesar Chavez at 10 p.m., Sept. 29; and drummer Max Roach at 9, Oct. 6.
John Leguizamo’s “Latin History for Morons” has been delayed. However, there are the Kahlo and Chavez films, plus:
— The Hispanic Heritage Awards, 9 p.m. Sept. 29.
— An “Independent Lens” (10 p.m. Oct. 9), with students learning to use forensic anthropology, to probe the history of disappeared people in Argentina.
— “Next at the Kennedy Center” returns Oct. 13, with Robert Glasper performing pieces from his “Black Radio” album. A week later are indigenous musicians and writers.
— “Great Performances” has New York City Ballet performances in Madrid, Oct. 27. A week later (Nov. 3) is “Message in a Bottle,” a dance and theater performance, to the music of Sting. And on Nov. 17, it celebrates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio, which saved 18 of his plays.
— “Fire Through Dry Glass” is a “POV” film Oct. 30, in which disabled artists, black and brown, offer the poetry and art they developed during the pandemic.
— “America Outdoors with Baratunde Thurston” continues at 8 p.m. Wednesdays. Among other things, Thurston will river-raft in New Mexico (Sept. 20), climb giant trees in Oregon (Sept. 27) and take a winter swim in Maine (Oct. 11).
— Fresh from “Human Footprint” this summer, Shane Campbell-Staton has “Evolution Earth,” viewing animals’ ability to fit the planet’s demands. That’s 10 p.m. Wednesdays, through Oct. 4.
— “Nova” opens its season at 9 p.m. Oct. 4 with “Ancient Earth,” a high-tech, five-week view of events in the billions of years before man arrived.
— “Nature” starts its season at 8 p.m. Oct. 18, with a look at a Tasmanian man preserving the platypus. The next week, it starts a four-part series that attaches cameras to animatronic, undersea creatures.
— “Antiques Roadshow” returns at 8 p.m. Oct. 2. It starts by looking back at past episodes and pondering how prices have changed. It also has a Halloween-themed episode on Oct. 30.
— “Secrets of the Dead” starts its season at 10 p.m. Oct. 11, with a look at a 4th-century basilica, found at the bottom of a Turkish lake. Coming are looks at “dinosaur collecting” (Oct. 18) and the Eiffel Tower (Oct. 25),
— “American Buffalo” is 8-10 p.m. Oct. 16-17. Like other Burns films, it’s brilliantly crafted. Unlike many of them, it’s deeply depressing in the first half, amid the combined destruction of both the creatures and the American Indians who had lived alongside them.
— “Native America” starts its second season a week later. It will be 9 p.m. on four Tuesdays.
— On Oct. 23, “POV” has the story of an Armenian genocide survivor who starred in an early Hollywood movie about her life. A week later, “American Experience” looks at a past culture war. “The War on Disco.”
— “Groundbreakers” is 8-10 p.m. Nov. 21, viewing a half-century in women’s sports.
— “POV” continues atr 10 p.m. Mondays. It follows a Brazilian activist emphasizing native identity (Sept. 25) and a grieving Muslim mother in Philadelphia, now an anti-gun-violence activist (Oct. 2).
— “Frontline” has “Putin vs. the Press” at 10 p.m. Sept. 26. It follows with reports on the Houston Astros’ rule-breaking (10 p.m., Oct. 3), Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover (9 p.m. Oct. 10) and 20 days in a shelled Ukrainian city (10 p.m. Nov. 21).