PBS’ stellar lineup for 50th anniversary season announced at Zoom-friendly TCA press tour

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything— almost.

 The rare exception is PBS, which remains a constant. It is a beacon of trustworthy news and entertainment that inspires as well as comforts in this chaotic world. And it is monumental to note that PBS will celebrate its 50th anniversary in October 2020.

 At the Summer 2020 press tour for the Television Critics Association (TCA), TV journalists from across the U.S. and Canada learned about the lineup for PBS’ anniversary year thanks to the magic of Zoom. Usually the writers get a whirlwind of presentations from PBS, networks, cable, and streaming services at a posh hotel in Los Angeles. But this year it was a virtual experience that PBS pulled off with ease. 

Ken Burns

 PBS held three days of interview panels offering impressive performers, producers, scientists, newsmakers, and news reporters available for questions during lively Zoom-friendly sessions.

 There were many highlights that filled the TCA members’ laptop screens. Ken Burns appeared announcing a litany of documentaries (including Muhammad Ali, Ernest Hemingway, Benjamin Franklin, the American Revolution, the Holocaust, LBJ and the Great Society, the buffalo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc., etc.) that he will be producing. He’ll be busy for the next twenty years or more. Critics also saw adorable baby kangaroos being cuddled and bottle fed by tender wildlife caretakers who talked about Nature‘s “Australian Bushfire Rescue”

Nature “Australian Bushfire Rescue”

special in October. Hugh Laurie (House) looked comfy in his home as he talked about filming a four-part political thriller, Roadkill, for Masterpiece premiering in November. And Melissa Gilbert was on hand to reveal that the character she played on Little House on the Prairie was a far cry from the real Laura Ingalls Wilder who will be profiled on American Masters in December.

 A new adaptation of James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small will come to Masterpiece in January 2021; and Great Performances offers the “Grammy Salute to Music Legends” hosted by five-time Grammy-winner Jimmy Jam for October 16.

 Nicholas Ralph plays James Herriott in All Creatures Great and Small (Photo courtesy of Playground Television (UK) Ltd.)

Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is returning this Fall to uncover more surprises hidden in some famous family trees. Professor Gates noted the series is back in production thanks to the six-foot round table that was created so he could social distance while offering his ancestry research face-to-face. Gates will also host The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song (February 2021).

 There are more great PBS shows coming to entertain viewers, and many that will enlighten too. Paula Kerger, PBS President & CEO, rightfully shared the TCA spotlight with the outstanding news and information programs that are must-see TV nowadays. Judy Woodruff, anchor of the stalwart PBS Newshour, offered insight to the coverage of the pandemic, the economic meltdown, the racial divide and Black Lives Matter movement, the White House coverage and the political pandemonium that is leading up to the presidential election in November. And Frontline’s “The Choice 2020: Trump vs. Biden” will offer revealing profiles in time to make a choice.

 Offering hope is another special PBS project called American Portrait. It is a digital website that acts as a national diary, where people can share their feelings and experiences about their lives during this moment in American history. Some will be included in a couple of specials and then a series in January. More than 8,000 stories have been collected and the producers are still encouraging people to participate. Go to pbs.org/americanportrait to tell your story.

 Closer to airdates there will be more in-depth coverage of these great PBS shows and more. Stay tuned.

Margie Barron has written for a wide variety of outlets including Gannett newspapers, Nickelodeon, Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine, Fresh!, Senior Life, Production Update, airline magazines, etc. Margie is also proud to have been half of the husband & wife writing team Frank & Margie Barron, who had written together for various entertainment and travel publications for more than 38 years.