Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Ken Burns PBS "Prohibition"

"Prohibition" Film makers Lynn Novick and Ken Burns

Ken Burns Readies “Prohibition” documentary for PBS

– PBS documentary filmmaker Ken Burns is a fan of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" -- he hasn't missed an episode yet -- and he's hopeful interest in the HBO 1920s-era series will help gin up interest in his latest PBS program, "Prohibition,"airing Oct. 2-4. ("Boardwalk Empire" returns for season two on Sept. 25.)

"I'm always amazed how many of the films we make seem to fit into the zeitgeist of the moment," Burns said. "We hope audiences who have been enjoying ["Boardwalk Empire"] might look to us and we hope audiences who might be enjoying our thing will go to them and that might represent the possibility of some symbiotic relationship."
Read more after the jump. ...

Burns made a lot of allusions to current-day issues that will be explored in "Prohibition" but he said he'd leave drawing any direct lines to viewers.

"We are not political filmmakers, we don't have a political axe to grind or make," Burns said, noting that at one point sauerkraut became known as "liberty cabbage" (shades of "freedom fries"). "One begins to understand human nature always is the same. We leave it up to our audience to forge those connections. We make a very strong point about prohibition and that it's an abject failure and didn't do anything about alcoholism. The impulse at the beginning of prohibition, the problem to solve, remained at the end of the prohibition era."

One of the best lines from a "Prohibition" clip shown is writer Pete Hamill's observation that making prohibition the law of the land is to "pass a law that would imprison Jesus if he turned water into wine."

- At a time when reality shows seem to be overrunning the TV landscape, PBS President Paula Kerger says her network provides an increasingly critical oasis.

"Channels that were supposed to replace PBS by offering history, drama and arts programming have increasingly turned to reality television," she told TV critics here this weekend.

"If the rest of the media continues on its current trajectory, PBS will be the only enterprise whose sole purpose is to provide content of consequence both nationally and locally to all Americans."

She cited A&E and Bravo as networks that have changed their focus from arts to reality, and she pointed to History as a channel that is covering its subject differently.

"As we look at how History is building out its work," said Kerger, "we see more and more opportunities for content they're not covering."

If this sounds like Kerger has added trash-talking to the PBS repertoire, she stressed she isn't criticizing other networks' programming, just saying their change in focus makes the mission of PBS more important.

Kerger took a more upbeat tone this weekend than she did in January, when public broadcasting was under heavy fire from legislators who wanted the government out of the media biz altogether.

PBS survived that one, and while Kerger acknowledges nothing in the federal budget could be called fully secure these days, she said most of the PBS news now is positive.

Viewership is up 7% over the last year, she said, or about 129,000 viewers at any given time. PBS Kids is up, Web hits are way up and "Masterpiece Theater" is up 44%, thanks largely to the new "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey."

She said the experimental science programming bloc on Wednesday nights has had "great results," and she praised upcoming specials that include the new three-part Ken Burns/Lynn Novick "Prohibition" series in early October.

Other specials will include a Cameron Crowe film on Pearl Jam, a New Orleans music trip featuring Hugh Laurie of "House," an "American Masters" on Woody Allen, an Ed Sullivan comedy retrospective and a second season of "Downton Abbey" in January.

All is not perfect in the PBS universe, Kerger acknowledged. She said state cutbacks in PBS funding have presented "challenges" for some stations and warned that "even aside from anything that could happen in the next election, every organization that gets government funding may be susceptible to cutbacks."

She says she is "talking all the time" to foundations and other alternate funding sources.

But she also said that contrary to some reports, she doesn't see PBS accepting traditional commercials.

"That could potentially impact some of our programming," she said, noting shows like "Frontline" that rely on an independent viewpoint.

Still, funding is a major consideration in every PBS move. Kerger pointed to HBO's "John Adams" miniseries, which she said she would have loved for PBS "except that it would have taken my content budget for an entire year."

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