MIPTV: Smithsonian Channel to Colorize American History From Prohibition to the Jazz Age

Elvis Presley - H 2014
AP Images

Elvis Presley - H 2014

The 'America in Color' series will restore a century of footage, including the attack on Pearl Harbor, Franklin D. Roosevelt's home movies and Elvis Presley's first TV appearance, to high-resolution color images.

The Smithsonian Channel, the network run by Showtime and the Smithsonian Institution, has launched one of the most ambitious and wide-ranging restoration projects ever undertaken to colorize a century of black-and-white footage and photography chronicling the history of the United States, its people and pop culture.

For its new five-hour series America in Color, the Smithsonian Channel will restore images ranging from Prohibition and the Jazz Age to the moon landing and the birth of rock 'n' roll. Footage includes illegal drinking in speakeasies in the 1920s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's rare home movies shot during the Great Depression, scenes of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and Elvis Presley's debut television appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

British production company Arrow Media, whose credits include National Geographic's Live From Space and the BAFTA-nominated documentary Sherpa, produced the series, colorizing the footage and restoring it to high-definition 4K color.

“This series shows America as never seen before — taking stories that everybody thinks they know and telling them in a compelling new way that is instantly relatable,” Arrow Media creative director Tom Brisley said Friday in a statement. “We have covered some of the most dramatic and iconic moments in 20th century America, with rare footage that now feels fresh and modern but also highly authentic — thanks to the scrupulously accurate work of our colorization team."

America in Color was commissioned by Chris Hoelzl and David Royle at Smithsonian Channel. Nick Metcalfe is executive producer on the series, with Lucie Ridout producing.

“This is one of our most important commissions — it’s a landmark series that puts the color back into history and transports viewers into a past that once seemed gray and distant, but now is vibrant and compelling,” said Royle.

America in Color will debut this summer on the Smithsonian Channel. The network will shop the series to international buyers next week at the MIPTV market in Cannes.