“Since we last met we’ve been busy,” PBS’ chief programming exec Beth Hoppe happily told TV critics today kicking off her “PBS pipeline” talk at Winter TV Press Tour 2015.
Not for the first time during PBS’s two days at the tour, TV critics heard about the previous season of Downton Abbey having been public TV’s highest-rated drama of all time, reaching an average of 13.3 million viewers, and how The Roosevelts gave PBS its most watched week in more than 20 years. More broadly, Hoppe said, PBS is focusing on reclamation of programming genres it once occupied alone, then had to share with new-ish cable networks that have since moved out in order to pursue demographically targeted scripted programming and other strategies. That, Hoppe said, is “leaving a lot of those genres open” for PBS which is now “uniquely serving our viewers.”
You may recognize some of those genres in today’s PBS pipeline announcements:
AMERICA’S BALLROOM CHALLENGE
Fridays, April 24-May 8, 9-10 pm ET
This three-part series features all four of the major styles of competitive ballroom dancing. In the first hour, the six finalists in the American Smooth and American Rhythm divisions compete first as a group, performing the five standard dances in their respective categories, with judges scoring their performances. Couples in the International Standard and International Latin styles take their turn in the second hour. In the third hour, the winning couples in the four divisions compete across dance styles in a “Best of Show” grand finale. Only one couple can be named “America’s Best.”
In addition to the competition on the dance floor, AMERICA’S BALLROOM CHALLENGE includes behind-the-scenes footage of the couples preparing for competition; exhibitions featuring other top couples in each style of dance, from children to Pro-Am champions, seniors to college dance teams; different aspects of the world of ballroom dancing, from the art of designing a costume to the secrets of judging.
AMERICAN MASTERS – RICKY JAY: DECEPTIVE PRACTICE
Friday, January 23, 9-10 pm ET
For the first time in the series’ 29-year history, American Masters profiles a magician: the inimitable Ricky Jay, one of the world’s greatest conjurers, a best-selling author, historian, actor and leading collector of antiquarian books and artifacts. Journey through the mysterious world of sleight-of-hand through new interviews with Jay, his friends and collaborators, including writer/director David Mamet. Tracing the story of Jay’s achievement, beginning at age 4 as apprentice to his grandfather Max Katz an accomplished amateur magician, the documentary features rare footage of some of the most influential magicians of the 20th century: Cardini, Slydini, Al Flosso, Dai Vernon and Charles Miller. Narrated by Dick Cavett, the film also features rare performance footage from Jay’s one-man shows and classic TV appearances, among them a hilarious turn with Steve Martin on Dinah Shore’s 1970s program. Filmmakers Molly Bernstein and Alan Edelstein explore the arduous demands of the magician’s craft, the use of language and storytelling central to the art, and this ancient tradition’s future. One hour.
THE BOMB tells a powerful story of the most destructive invention in human history, outlining how America developed the nuclear bomb, how it changed the world and how it continues to loom large in our lives. Through state-of-the-art transfer techniques that have turned recently declassified images into vivid, jaw-dropping footage, viewers witness the raw power and strangely compelling beauty of rare views of above-ground nuclear tests.
The documentary includes interviews with historians Richard Rhodes, Martin Sherwin, Robert Norris, Sergei Khrushchev and others, along with men and women who helped build the weapon piece by piece. Audiences also hear from former Secretary of State George Shultz and Secretary of Defense William Perry, who reveal how the bomb was viewed inside government circles, as well as those who hold firsthand memories of seeing the first mushroom clouds fill the skies. This groundbreaking film provides captivating insights through its masterfully restored footage and its assembly of voices who were there when the atomic age began.
EARTH – A NEW WILD
Wednesdays, February 4, 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET; February 11-25, 2015, 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET
This five-part series takes a fresh look at humankind’s relationship to the planet’s wildest places and most fascinating species. Dr. M. Sanjayan, a leading conservation scientist, takes viewers on a stunning visual journey to explore how humans are inextricably woven into every aspect of the planet’s natural systems. The series features spectacular natural history footage from the most striking places on Earth, filming encounters between wild animals and the people who live and work with them. With up-close looks at a range of species, from giant pandas to humpback whales and African lions to Arctic reindeer, Sanjayan reveals that co-habitations with animals can work — and be mutually beneficial. Distinguishing itself from nearly all other nature films, EARTH — A NEW WILD turns the cameras around, showing the world as it really is —with humans in the picture.
“Home” (2/4, 9pm) examines the relationship between humans and large animals on a 21st-century planet and asks if wild nature can still survive in what scientists now acknowledge is a new age for the planet. “Plains” (2/4, 10pm) explores wild grasslands — home to the greatest gathering places of animal life on the planet, yet among the most endangered places on Earth. “Forests” (2/11, 10pm) travels deep into the westernmost Amazon to a place scientists believe may be the most bio-diverse on earth, still holding the secrets of un-contacted tribes. “Oceans” (2/18, 10pm) introduces Jeremy Jackson, whose seminal paper “The Rise of Slime” dramatically changed the way scientists look at our relationship with the Earth’s oceans. “Water” (2/25, 10pm) explores humankind’s relationship with the Earth’s most important resource, unraveling dramatic connections between the pulse of fresh water and the health of the planet.
The last decade has brought significant advances in our scientific understanding of how humans came to be the modern beings we are today. Combining archaeology, genetics and anthropology, the five-part FIRST PEOPLES restructures the family tree of the human race, showing how the mixing of prehistoric human genes led the way for our species to survive and thrive around the globe.
A team of international scientists reveals shocking evidence and unexpected discoveries that cast new light on 200,000 years of history. Animation brings viewers back to the world their ancestors knew and survived. Cutting-edge technology and dramatic re-enactments bring viewers face-to-face with primitive people, and world-renowned scientists show us the places where significant discoveries have been made. FIRST PEOPLES details how early humans moved around the globe and became its dominant species.
LAST TANGO IN HALIFAX, Season 3
The third season of this popular series continues to celebrate love and life. Celia and Alan plan to make the most of their time together when a surprise visitor stops them in their tracks. With Kate in her third trimester, Caroline and Kate settle into married life and look forward to motherhood, but a devastating event knocks everyone for a loop. Old habits come back to haunt Gillian as she grapples with following her head over her heart.
LIFE ON THE REEF
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the richest and most complex natural ecosystems on earth. Home to a stunning array of animals, from microscopic plankton to 100-ton whales, it is one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. From the coral cays of the outer reef to the Islands of the Torres Strait, the reef’s human residents work to find that critical balance between our needs and those of an ever-diminishing natural world. The three-part LIFE ON THE REEF presents a unique and fresh angle on Australia’s greatest natural icon, seen through the eyes of those who live, work and play in this natural wonderland.
TWICE BORN – STORIES FROM THE SPECIAL DELIVERY UNIT (w.t.)
Tuesdays, March 31-April 14, 2015, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET
Witness groundbreaking fetal surgery in this miniseries that takes an intimate, inside look at the Special Delivery Unit at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), where rare surgeries are performed on babies inside the womb. With exclusive access to the elite unit, experience rarely seen, real-time footage of operations on fetuses. Join expectant parents who face a gut-wrenching decision: Should they take a leap of faith to repair birth defects with pre-natal surgery, even if it means they could lose their child? Gain insight into the lives of an unusual team of doctors who have defied skeptics and chosen to pursue this high-risk, high-reward career path.
In the first episode, Dr. Holly Hedrick attempts to remove a tumor from a fetus still attached to her mother, and a couple anxiously waits to find out if they are candidates for fetal surgery to repair their baby’s spine. In the second hour, doctors remove the remainder of newborn’s tumor and viewers get a close-up look at surgery on a baby in the womb – the first time ever in a major television broadcast. In the final program, a couple visits CHOP to seek help for their unborn child, who has developed a lower urinary tract obstruction.
URANIUM – TWISTING THE DRAGON’S TAIL
Host and physicist Dr. Derek Muller unlocks the mysteries of uranium, one of the Earth’s most controversial elements. Dr. Muller embarks on an epic journey across the globe to explain the fascinating details of uranium’s birth and longevity. Born from the collapse of a star, uranium has brought hope, progress and destruction. It has revolutionized society, from medicine to warfare. It is an element that has profoundly shaped the past, will change the future and will exist long after humans have left the Earth. Filmed on five continents, this two-hour program, produced by Emmy® Award-winning filmmaker Sonya Pemberton, delivers a gripping story of an ancient element’s footprint on the world.
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