“I’m a pig in shit,” Ken Burns said of his quantity of documentary films in the pipeline. First up: The Address is extremely short by Burns’ standards – under two hours long. It follows a school in Vermont that has students each year memorize the Gettysburg Address, delivered by President Lincoln on November 19, 1863 at the dedication of a cemetery on the site of the bloodiest battle ever fought on U.S. soil. It was, Burns noted, not universally embraced at the time – a Chicago newspaper’s review said, “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.” The Address airs April 15 at 9 PM on PBS.
This fall, PBS will air the 14-hour The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, about Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor Roosevelt. In 2015, PBS will air the six-hour The Story Of Cancer: The Emperor Of Al Maladies, based on the book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography Of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee, M.D. Other upcoming Burns films include Jackie Robinson which is scheduled to air next year; Vietnam, planned for the 2016-17 TV season; Country Music, planned for the following season; and Ernest Hemingway in 2019-20 season.
Burns feels a sense of urgency about his work. “I just turned 60, and I just feel more like I want to, you know, do more and more and more,” he told TV critics attending Winter TV Press Tour 2014. “We do have to sort of plan in a 10-year period.” He spoke of the “incredible commitment” to his projects from PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting” augmented by contributions from foundations, explaining, “We’ve had to recently add individual donors since the meltdown, to offset a real decline in the amount of institutional foundation funding. So that’s a real active thing — a project that’s just an idea could not be funded, but a project that’s going has to be funded. That’s why we’re so far along with Hemingway which won’t be broadcast until 2019 or 2020.”
In the next couple years Burns said he plans to unveil his next 10-year plan, for the ‘20s. “I feel more creatively alive right now than I’ve ever felt in my life.”
“By the way, I think you’ve been mentioned as much as Lena Dunham in these [TV Critics Association] sessions,” one critic complimented Burns.
“Does that mean I have to take off my clothes?” Burns joked.