Archive for the ‘Genre: Documentary’ Category

TV Builds Character: “America in Primetime” Premieres Sunday on PBS

Saturday, October 29th, 2011

Since its inception, television has served as a lens on American society, and in the expansive world of modern TV, today’s heroes and villains have come a long way from their predecessors. America in Primetime showcases this iconic American art form, which has both reflected and shaped our national character. The four-part series premieres Sundays, October 30 through November 20, 2011, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings). America in Primetime is a production of WETA Washington, D.C., and The Documentary Group, in association with the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation. Funding is provided by Dove, a Unilever brand; the Annenberg Foundation; the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; and PBS.

Sunday, October 30, 8:00 p.m. ET (check local listings)

Independent Woman reveals how women have transformed from model housewives to complex, and sometimes controversial, characters. Interviews include Roseanne Barr (Roseanne); Candice Bergen (Murphy Brown); Liz Brixius and Linda Wallem (Nurse Jackie); Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives); Robert and Michelle King and Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife); James L. Brooks and Mary Tyler Moore (The Mary Tyler Moore Show); and Shonda Rhimes and Sandra Oh (Grey’s Anatomy), among others.

Sunday, November 6, 8:00 p.m. ET (check local listings)

Man of the House showcases the evolution of men from the kings of their castles in classic family sitcoms to more intricate, conflicted figures in modern shows. Interviews include Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner (The Cosby Show); David Chase (The Sopranos); Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad); Ron Howard (The Andy Griffith Show); Carl Reiner and Dick Van Dyke (The Dick Van Dyke Show); and Phil Rosenthal and Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond), among others.

Sunday, November 13, 8:00 p.m. ET (check local listings)

The Misfit rates the unique characters who defied comic stereotypes and societal expectations to reflect America’s diverse personalities. Interviews include Alec Baldwin (30 Rock); Diablo Cody (The United States of Tara); Greg Daniels and Rainn Wilson (The Office); Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld); Paul Feig and Judd Apatow (Freaks and Geeks); Mitchell Hurwitz (Arrested Development); Mike Judge (Beavis an Butthead); and Garry Shandling (The Larry Sanders Show), among others.

Sunday, November 20, 8:00 p.m. ET (check local listings)

The Crusader delves into the increasingly grey area between right and wrong as television heroes confront internal demons while seeking their own forms of justice. Interviews include Alan Alda (M*A*S*H); Steven Bochco and David Milch (NYPD Blue); Chris Carter and Gillian Anderson (The X-Files); Bob Cochran and Joel Surnow (24); Michael C. Hall (Dexter); Shawn Ryan and Michael Chiklis (The Shield); and David Shore and Hugh Laurie (House), among others.

America in Primetime features more than 100 in-depth interviews with the creators, writers and actors who give life to the characters whom audiences have come to love and demonstrates how the finest television today has its foundation in the best television of yesterday.

Listen to NPR’s David Bianculli’s review of the series here.

Prohibition? The Civil War? The Brooklyn Bridge? Filmmaker Ken Burns on How He Chooses his Projects

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Prohibition, a new three-part, five-and-a-half-hour documentary series by Ken Burns (The Civil War, Jazz, Baseball, Huey Long, National Parks: America’s Best Idea; Brooklyn Bridge, and many more) and Lynn Novick, airs October 2, 3 and 4, 2011, 8:00-10:00 p.m. ET on PBS. Set in the era of bathtub gin, bootleggers and speakeasies, the series tells the true story of the rise, rule and fall of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It was called the Noble Experiment, but it was in fact one of America’s most notorious civic failures, an object lesson in the challenge of legislating human behavior.

The Archive of American Television interviewed Ken Burns about his life, career, and documentary process in 2007, here’s a clip where he passionately discusses his documentary style and how he chooses his projects:

Also, check out Jim Benson’s TV Time Machine interview with Ken Burns about the project.

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick introduce the series in this promo video:

Watch the full episode. See more Ken Burns.

Watch the Archive’s full interview with Ken Burns here.

Photo courtesy of: John Binder Collection

Scripting Reality: “An American Family” comes Full-Circle

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

40 years ago, in 1971 in suburban Santa Barbara, TV history was quietly being made as cinematographers Alan and Susan Raymond, along with producer Craig Gilbert, brought their cameras into the home and lives of the Loud family. The culmination of their work, the 12-part An American Family, aired on PBS  in 1973, and has since been considered the first true “reality” series. Now, the genre comes full circle with a fully scripted version of the story as HBO premieres Cinema Verite, a docudrama about the making of the documentary starring James Gandolfini, Diane Lane, and Tim Robbins.

In this Archive interview clip, Alan and Susan Raymond discuss meeting the Louds for the first time in New York and realizing how groundbreaking depicting an openly-gay Lance Loud on television would be:

The Archive of American Television interviewed the Raymonds (who continued to change the cinematic landscape with other acclaimed documentaries featuring grainy handheld footage and other techniques we take for granted) for four hours in 2010, just as Cinema Verite was in production. “It’s going to be another life experience,” they said. “First you see Steve Bochco take your footage [from The Police Tapes for the opening of Hill Street Blues]. And then you see the guy who makes Cops take your footage. Then you see reality TV like Real World, springboard from your work.  So now there’s going to be a narrative version of you, in which we’re characters in the movie.”

Cinema Verite trailer:

Again, as a sign of the times, apparently Craig Gilbert is not thrilled with his portrayal in the film. Hopefully, there was a crew filming a reality show of the making of the docudrama to help sort things out.

A reality TV footnote: in the Archive’s very recent interview with executive Tom Freston, who headed MTV as The Real World was developed, Freston mentioned that the series came out of an idea for a scripted soap opera featuring young adults. The concept proved too expensive, so the network opted to mount cameras in a house, and let the script write itself. The more things change….

Producer David Wolper (“Roots”) has Died — Co-Founder of the Archive of American Television

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Legendary producer David Wolper, whose many documentaries and notable TV projects include Roots and The Thorn Birds — has died at the age of 82. Wolper was one of the co-founders of the Archive of American Television and was interviewed about his career on May 12, 1998.  His full Archive interview is currently available online.

Interview Description:

In his Archive interview, David Wolper talked about forming his first company, Flamingo Films, with father and son friends Joe and Jim Harris.  He discussed many of his documentaries, including the “Race For Space,” “Hollywood: The Golden Years,” and “The Making of a President,” among others.  Wolper fondly recalled working with his long time friend Mike Wallace, as well meeting and working with oceanographer, Jacques Cousteau.  He talked about two classic sitcoms, Chico and the Man and Welcome Back, Kotter, as well as the many television movies and specials he produced. Wolper also discussed in great detail his three highly acclaimed ABC mini-series, Roots, The Thorn Birds, and North and South.  The five-and-a-half-hour interview was conducted by Morrie Gelman.

John Langley’s Interview Is Now Online– Created “Cops”

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Cops is an existential variety show, with a criminal accent, and real décor.”

John Langley was interviewed in North Hollywood, CA on May 22, 2009; Karen Herman conducted the two-hour interview.

Interview Description:

John Langley says of his background: “I’m a kid of the 60’s.  I’m sort of anti-authoritarian by nature.  If you told me I was going to do a show about cops, I would have said, what am I going to call it, Pigs?”  John Langley produced a string of documentary specials in the 1980s, leading up to the series he’s most-associated with, the long-running reality series Cops.  In his Archive interview, John Langley talks about his early years in the armed forces and in a string of different jobs, including motion picture marketing and advertising.  He chronicles the making and selling of the feature documentary Cocaine Blues, and the creation of his company Barbour/Langley Productions.  He recounts how his initial idea for Cops led to the documentary special American Vice: The Doping of a Nation, a program that featured live on-the-air drug busts.  Langley lists his many subsequent specials, several of which were hosted by Geraldo Rivera.  He discusses the subject matter of two other documentaries: Terrorism: Target USA (which predicted a terrorist attack on US soil) and Who Killed JFK? (which suggested that Oswald was not the lone assassin of President Kennedy: a theory that Langley himself rejects, despite having produced the show).  Langley then describes the process of selling Cops, eventually to the then-still-fledgling FOX network.  He comments on the rawness of the pilot and the show’s cinema verité style.  On the show’s format, Langley defines the three-segment structure as following a pattern of an action piece, an emotional piece, and a thought piece.  He speaks about the process of producing the show from working with the various police departments, getting releases signed, and training the crews.  He then talks about how Cops has become a part of pop culture during its long run.  On why the series has remained popular, Langley says: “it’s immediate, it keeps you in the moment.  It’s unpredictable…. It’s the only show I know of on television that has no music within the show itself, no narrator, no host, no reenactments, no script.  Show me any other show like that.  You know, there aren’t a lot of them, if there are. You go along literally for a ride.  You see a world you’re not likely to see.  And even though I think I’ve seen it all on Cops, I’m still surprised.”  Lastly he touches on his feature film work and other series TV series, including Jail and Street Patrol.

Producer David Wolper Turns 80 Today

Friday, January 11th, 2008


Legendary producer (and Archive of American Television co-founder) David L. Wolper is 80 years old today. Wolper’s name is most associated with documentaries, such as Race for Space and The Making of a President as well as miniseries such as Roots. He also produced such feature films as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory; sitcoms Welcome Back, Kotter and Chico and the Man; and special events such as the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games. Wolper was interviewed by the Archive about his life and career in 1998.

Soundbites from the interview.

On his philosophy of filmmaking:

I [devised] my philosophy of filmmaking, making the Race For Space and I never changed it from that first show. I want to entertain and inform, not just inform and not just entertain. I want to do both in the same piece. Because I remember, I saw a film in school once. And I came home and told my father. You know I saw this film in school, it was terrific. And my father said well you probably didn’t learn anything. I said no dad, I learned more today because it was terrific. I enjoyed it, I did learn a lot. He said how can you learn a lot just watching film? That sort of reminded me. And when I did the Race For Space I wanted to get that entertainment.

On Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory:

Roald Dahl had a book. Mel Stewart, who has worked for my company, said his son read a book and really liked it called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I thought it was terrific. About that time, Quaker Oats was sponsoring one of my shows. And Quaker Oats was coming out with a candy and they said maybe it’s a good idea if we do a television thing on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And I said well why don’t you do a feature film, why don’t you do a theatrical picture and get it out all over the theaters and the time you release the candy is the same time the movie comes out. So they put up the money to make the movie. They changed it to Willy Wonka because the name of the candy was going to be Willy Wonka. They changed it to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. We made the movie. It’s a big hit. And the candy melts on the counter, they had the wrong formula and all the candy, they had to recall back all the candy.

On selling Welcome Back, Kotter:

We’re going to New York and it’s the selling season. Everybody goes to New York to sell the shows as a program. Everybody is trying to see the heads of the network, you know, this and this and this. So I [thought] I wonder when Fred Pierce is flying back to New York, the head of ABC, one of the top people. So I knew his secretary because I had done a lot of business with ABC. I said when is Freddy flying back. She said well he’s flying back Wednesday. What flight is it? You know the seat number? Yes. Thank you. I called up the airline and I said I have to have this seat, this flight. Well somebody’s there. Move him to another seat, I want seat 6 on flight 225. Just think, I’m going to be all the way to New York with Freddy Pierce sitting next to me and I’m going to sell him Welcome Back Kotter. And we get on the plane and I say oh Freddy, isn’t that a coincidence. So I sit down. I talk about Welcome Back, Kotter subtly, you know. …And “Welcome Back, Kotter,” blah, blah, blah. By the time we got to New York I knew in my heart that they were going to buy Welcome Back, Kotter. And everybody is hustling, how do we get that guy? I need two minutes of your time Freddy. And I had four hours of him on the way to New York.

On meeting Roots author Alex Haley:

I negotiated the deal and bought the property from Alex Haley. The book had not been written. I hadn’t met Alex Haley. So Alex Haley comes out to California. We have a little luncheon. Myself and some of the people in my company and in about ten minutes we’re the table was won over. This man mesmerized us in a ten to twenty minute conversation, we were [mouth agape]. I went home from the lunch and said my god, this man is unbelievable.


On his favorite shows:

Well my favorite shows, they all have something to do with turning points in my life [A] favorite [documentary] was The Making of the President in 1960. I was once called “Mr. Documentary.” Then I was in the miniseries and my favorite obviously is Roots. So now all of sudden I’m “Mr. Miniseries.” Then I do the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games that… it was even worldwide. So everybody thinks I’m [Mr.] outdoor spectaculars, you know. But really, you know, my real love is the documentary.

The entire 11-part interview can be accessed here.

Interview description:
David Wolper was interviewed for nearly five-and-a-half hours in Los Angeles, CA. Wolper talked about forming his first company, Flamingo Films, with father and son friends Joe and Jim Harris. He discussed many of his documentaries, including the Race For Space, Hollywood: The Golden Years, and The Making of a President, among others. Wolper fondly recalled working with his long time friend Mike Wallace, as well meeting and working with oceanographer, Jacques Cousteau. He talked about two classic sitcoms, Chico and the Man and Welcome Back, Kotter, as well as the many television movies and specials he produced. Wolper also discussed in great detail his three highly acclaimed ABC mini-series, Roots, The Thorn Birds, and North and South. The interview was conducted by Morrie Gelman on May 12, 1998.