PBS' 'American Experience' Orders 1936 Olympics Documentary Ahead of Summer Games (Exclusive)

The telecast, which centers on the U.S. men's rowing team during the 1936 Games, will coincide with the Summer Olympics.
Courtesy of Corbis

PBS' American Experience is gearing up for the summer Olympics.

The long-running program has greenlighted a documentary about the 1936 U.S. men's rowing team to premiere this summer, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

Inspired by the New York Times best-seller The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the hourlong doc will tell the story of the nine University of Washington students who took the rowing world and the nation by storm when they captured the gold medal at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. The Boys of '36 will show how the team overcame psychological, physical, emotional and economic hardships to beat not only East Coast Ivy League teams but Adolf Hitler’s elite German rowers. Their surprise triumph gave hope to a nation struggling to recover from the Great Depression.

The book, written by Daniel James Brown, has been on the best-seller list for 96 weeks. Brown, as well as historians and surviving children of the 1936 team, will be interviewed for the program. Mark Samels (American Experience) will executive produce, with sports documentarian Margaret Grossi (Ted Williams, McEnroe/Borg: Fire & Ice) and sports journalist Mary Carillo on board as producers. American Experience is produced for PBS by WGBH in Boston.

The PBS telecast will bow Tuesday, Aug. 2, at 9 p.m. ET/PT and mark the 80th anniversary of the team's victory. The premiere also coincides with the Summer Olympic Games, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro. 

“The Boys of ’36 is really an inspiring story.” Samels said in a statement. “These remarkable young men — with nothing more than strength of character, hard work and determination — triumphed over unimaginable odds. We’re proud to bring this story, so vividly recounted in Brown’s best-seller, to our audience.”

Additionally, several screenings of the film will be held in partnership with USRowing, a nonprofit membership organization recognized by the United States Olympic Committee as the national governing body for the sport of rowing in the U.S.

“USRowing is thrilled to partner with American Experience and Liberty Mutual to share this much-anticipated documentary with the rowing community,” said USRowing chief marketing officer Beth Kohl. “The story of the 1936 crew is one that transcends rowing and has captured the hearts of millions of people, from those who have never touched an oar to our U.S. athletes training for the 2016 Olympic Games.”

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