Growing footprint: pets, pigs, pythons, more

Humans keep adding things to their world.
They brought pigs to Hawaii, pythons to Florida (shown here), Asian carp to the Midwest, dogs and cats to their living rooms. They water grass so it looks pretty, grow crops so they can feed (and then eat) animals.
There may be a temptation to judge, said Shane Campbell-Staton, whose “Human Footprint” is 9 p.m. Wednesdays on PBS. “Seeing hundreds of thousands of gallons of water sprayed on something that nobody’s going to eat – it’s complicated,” he told the Television Critics Association. Read more…

Marie Antoinette: A ditz? A rebel? A well-dressed enigma

More than two centuries after Marie Antoinette’s death, there are opposite views. She was:
— A ditz and a spendthrift who ignored her countrymen’s poverty. She didn’t really say “let them eat cake,” but she might have thought it.
— Something much more. “She was totally a rebel,” said Emilia Schule (shown here), who stars in the eight-part “Marie Antoinette,” debuting at 10 p.m. Sunday (March 19) on PBS.
In the glittery Versailles palace, Marie was a rule-breaker — something Schule sort of understands. Read more…

His family tree is filled with epic drama

Joe Manganiello’s fictional world has been filled with epic adventures. He’s played superheroes and spent years (in “True Blood”) as a werewolf, surrounded by vampires.
But his familiy’s real-life stories can almost match that. They include a heroic great-grandmother.
“If you’re Armenian, you’re descended from some form of survivor,” Manganiello (shown here) told the Television Critics Association. “So I just heard all these stories growing up.”
Then he linked with “Finding Your Roots,” to learn the specifics. The results – along with those of former football star Tony Gonzalez – will be shown at 8 p.m. Tuesday (Feb. 7) on PBS, before the State of the Union address in most places and after it on the West Coast. Read more…

He’s no MD, but he’s doing fine

In a tiny town in West Virginia, Pauline Gates was clear about this: Her two sons would be doctors.
One, Dr. Paul Gates, is, indeed, an oral surgeon. But the other descended into academia and fame.
That’s Henry Louis Gates Jr. (shown here), who is now one of PBS’ biggest stars. “It was a fantasy of mine,” Gates said. “I didn’t even realize that it was; I didn’t tell anybody.”
But here he is, filling our TV sets. PBS has been re-running his “Finding Your Roots” at 8 p.m. Tuesdays; it will have a fresh batch in January. Read more…

From “Jaws” and “Star Wars” to classical, he’s the master

John Williams has been writing music for 80 years now, so this must be easy for him.
Or not. “There’s rarely a moment (when) I have said, ‘Eureka, this is exactly right,’” he said.
Consider the five “Close Encounters” notes, which seemed just right for communicating with aliens: “I wrote about 300 examples,” Williams (shown here) told the Television Critics Association.
His Zoom call was to promote a big-deal classical-music event: At 9 p.m. Friday (Nov. 12), PBS’ has Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Boston Symphony with, as “Great Performances” producer David Horn put it, “the debut of a violin concerto by legendary composer John Williams.” Read more…

Summertime silliness overload? Switch to PBS

Occasionally, it seems, TV veers away from its summer silliness.
You just have to know where to look … which is mostly PBS.
The network has just announced three “Frontline” films, plus six on “POV.” Those documentaries span the globe – Palestine, Peru and Puerto Rico, plus India, Afghanistan and the U.S, – and cover serious issues, from toppling statues (shown here) to propping up the economy. Read more…

Pandemic sent PBS in fresh directions

For PBS, the pandemic created a global dilemma.
This is a network that sprawls across continents and genres. COVID has had endless effects, from delayed dramas to masked puppeteers, solo concerts by Renee Fleming (shown here) and others, and an “Antiques Roadshow” without the roadshow.
Still, PBS has an ambitious schedule, partly because documentaries have been less affected. Coming up are two masterful ones – Henry Louis Gates’ “The Black Church” (Feb. 16-17) and Ken Burns’ “Hemingway” (April 5-7), plus some ongoing series.
“I think the most important series that we have on our air is ‘Frontline,’” Paula Kerger, the network president, told the Television Critics Association. “When you look at what’s happening to investigative journalism in this country, ‘Frontline’ (10 p.m. Tuesdays) is one of the last standing.” Read more…

Here’s a portrait of dreams, large and small

We hear a lot about “the American dream” – especially when a pandemic might sideswipe it.

But what is that dream? PBS “American Portrait” reminds us how varied it can be.
It can be something huge. A young Alaskan dad links with a friend to start their own airline; a student struggles to get into medical school – a chance that was denied to her mother in Afghanistan.
Or it can be more basic: A young construction worker (shown here) and his girlfriend, dreamig of some day having a house and a family. Those three stories are at the core of the “Portrait” opener, at 9 p.m. Tuesday (Jan. 5). Read more…

“Fiddler”: A theater giant, molded from tradition

Some of Broadway’s best minds were trying to say what their prospective musical was about.
It had this dairyman … and his daughters … and the czar’s soldiers … and …
But what, director Jerome Robbins asked, was it really about? Finally, someone said it was about tradition. “Write that!” Robbins said.
That story is told in “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles,” a richly crafted documentary at 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13), on PBS. The film tells of a musical some people felt would fail.
It didn’t. “Fiddler on the Roof” (shown here) won nine Tony awards and ran for 3,242 performances – at the time, the longest-running show in Broadway history. It’s had five New York revivals, six tours and a movie. Read more…

A national diary soars in the time of COVID

As the year began, PBS launched a sort of national diary.
People could simply send in their stories, via video (usually) … or photos … or prose … or whatever.
Eventually, some would be tied into a special – one of which (shown here) airs at 10:30 p.m. this Sunday (Aug. 2) on many stations. It would be kind of pleasant and PBS-y.
Then COVID came and everything changed. Read more…