PBS is playing to its strengths — British dramas, Ken Burns documentaries and plenty of political insight — with its just-announced fall schedule. As is custom with the public broadcaster, the emphasis is on Sunday night programming. With the success of Season 2 of Downton Abbey still fresh, PBS will air the UK hit miniseries Call The Midwife, debuting Sunday, September 30. Following Call The Midwife for most of the run is Season 2 of the new Upstairs Downstairs, airing Sundays Oct. 7 to Nov. 11. The latest documentary from Ken Burns, The Dust Bowl, airs Sunday November 18 and Monday November 19. In addition, PBS will repeat its well-received American Masters documentary on Dust Bowl folk hero Woody Guthrie on Thursday, November 16. With the political season heating up, PBS is ramping up its election coverage, once again airing “The Choice,” a politics-focused edition of the long-running Frontline on Tuesday, October 9. The public broadcaster will also air three Presidential debates and one Vice Presidential debate when they’re held in the fall.
With its focus on dramas on Sundays, PBS is also once again airing science programming Wednesdays, including new episodes of Nature, Nova and Nova scienceNow, the latter hosted by New York Times tech columnist David Pogue. Mondays will feature Antiques Roadshow specials, the related series Market Warriors and the film series Independent Lens. Among the specials on the PBS slate are the four-hour documentary on the global plight of women, Half The Sky, based on New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and writer Sheryl WuDunn’s book. In perhaps a slight nod to NBC’s “Smash,” PBS will air Broadway Or Bust on Sunday nights Sept. 9-23, tracking the drama and triumphs of the national High School Musical Theatre Awards program.
Fall 2012 Highlights, as supplied by PBS (all times ET)
Broadway Or Bust: Sundays, September 9-23, 2012, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET
PBS is bound for Broadway with a new three-part documentary series that tracks the real-life stories of America’s top high school musical performers, vying in the ultimate competition to find the nation’s best young theater stars. Part competition, part performance and part non-fiction drama, the series starts in regional theatrical programs, then moves to New York City, where the “best of the best” compete in the National High School Musical Theatre Awards (a.k.a. The Jimmy Awards).
Call The Midwife: Sundays, September 30 to November 4, 2012, 8:00-9:00 p.m.
Based on a best-selling trilogy by the late Jennifer Worth, Call The Midwife is a fascinating portrayal of birth, life and death in a world drastically different from ours. This six-part series offers an unconventional twist to Sunday-night British dramas and brings mid-20th-century London to life, focusing on the joys and hardships of a group of midwives working in London’s East End.
Masterpiece Classic: “Upstairs Downstairs,” Season 2: Sundays, October 7 to November 11, 2012, 9:00-10:00 p.m.
The saga continues at 165 Eaton Place, with new characters upstairs and down, in a six-part sequel to the much-loved MASTERPIECE series from the 1970s. Set in 1936, the lives of masters and servants have never been so captivating, as two new arrivals make their mark and Lady Agnes reveals a dark secret. Alex Kingston (“ER,” “Doctor Who”) joins the cast. The six-part series follows MIDWIFE, starting October 7. Viewers can catch up on the first season with a three-hour marathon September 30.
Frontline “The Choice”: Tuesday, October 9, 2012, 9:00-11:00 p.m.
The quadrennial election special maintains its reputation for clear, unbiased reporting as it covers the 2012 presidential candidates. “The Choice” provides viewers an in-depth look at President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney, exploring the forces behind their campaigns, voter views on the issues and the projected changes the eventual winner will bring to the White House.
The Dust Bowl: Sunday, November 18 and Monday, November 19, 2012, 8:00-10:00 p.m.
Ken Burns’s new two-part, four-hour documentary The Dust Bowl chronicles the environmental catastrophe that destroyed the farmlands of the Great Plains, turned prairies into deserts and unleashed a pattern of massive, deadly dust storms in 1930s America. Personal survival stories and rare archival footage tell the story of the country’s worst manmade ecological disaster. In conjunction with the broadcast, PBS celebrates the centennial of Woody Guthrie’s birth with a repeat of his acclaimed American Masters profile on Friday, November 16, 2012 at 9:00 p.m.