PBS Launching Most Ambitious Series in Years (Exclusive)

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Paula Kerger

A new production of Gilbert and Sullivan's nautical comic romp "H.M.S. Pinafore" kicks off the long-in-the-works series, designed to showcase American artists and performances

Public television's most ambitious series in years will set sail with a new production of Gilbert and Sullivan's nautical comic romp H.M.S. Pinafore, produced by the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.

It launches Oct. 14, airing on some 360 viewer-supported stations around the country, after which it will be seen online and as part of PBS' support for education.

"It's the biggest commitment to the arts PBS has made in recent history by creating a nine-week festival of the American arts," PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger told The Hollywood Reporter. "We hope this is the kickoff of a long-term commitment to bring American artists to a national audience."

Kerger said they picked the Savoy Opera first performed in 1878, in a new production directed by Joe Dowling, artistic director of the Guthrie, because one of the goals of the series is to show that there is vibrant work in the arts being produced from coast-to-coast.

"We love what's going on with the arts in the Twin Cities," said Kerger, "and we wanted something very accessible that would also be fun."

Planning for the ambitious series has taken several years, said Kerger, first to raise the funding and get the support of the member stations, and then to determine a structure that would show what is being done nationwide few know about. That is why one goal of the series was to present shows created in as many cities as possible.

"We looked around and saw great work everywhere and realized no one knows about it," Kerger said. "This is a way to shine a light on great work at a time there really isn't a showcase for this anywhere."

Some of the episodes were already in process and were repackaged to be part of the series. Those produced especially for the series are H.M.S. Pinafore, Pearl Jam Twenty, Give Me the Banjo and Women Who Rock.

To bring home that message, the series is designed to include a documentary about the back story of how each episode came to life and to provide local stations with a cut-in of time to present similar kinds of arts going on in their community.

"We wanted to make sure this is a reflection of work that isn't often seen," Kerger said.

Ironically at one time PBS seemed to be threatened by the rise of cable channels that were doing this kind of programming like A&E and Bravo. Now, however, those channels have all moved toward more commercial programming, much of it reality shows, and away from the kind of arts that brings to life great music, performances and works of art both from contemporary artists and from the archives.

That is what this series intends to do. "These are a kind of arts for which there is a need which the commercial marketplace is not going to fulfill," Kerger said. "It falls to public broadcasting to pick up the mantle."

All of the episodes will become available online and will later be part of the educational content made available to educators.

"We want to give every American a front row seat on the arts," Kerger said. "That is public television's mission."

Here is a schedule of the PBS Arts Fall Festival with brief notes on each production can be found on the next page.


All are scheduled to premiere at 9 p.m. EST.

Oct. 14 -- Gilbert And Sullivan's HMS Pinafore, presented by Twin Cities Public Television. The Guthrie has done fresh musical arrangements of Sir Arthur Sullivan's most popular and memorable melodies.

Oct. 21 -- American Masters: Pearl Jam Twenty, produced by American Masters for WNET New York in collaboration with KCTS. To celebrate the rock band Pearl Jam's 20th anniversary, director Cameron Crowe had created a documentary drawn from more than 1,200 hours of rarely and never before seen footage, plus 24 hours of recently shot concert and interview footage. It is part concert film, part a rare look at the band behind the scenes and part a celebration of how the band has influenced music. It includes interviews with original band members and many others.

Oct. 28 -- Great Performances: Miami City Ballet Dances Balanchine & Tharp, produced by WNET New York in collaboration with WPBT. Edward Villella's Miami City Ballet presents a trio of signature works by Balanchine and Tharp: "Square Dance," 'Western Symphony," and "The Golden Section."

Nov. 4 -- PBS Arts from the Blue Ridge Mountains: Give Me The Banjo, produced in collaboration with UNC-TV (North Carolina). Actor/comedian Steve Martin narrates a film about the roots of American music -- the minstrel show, ragtime, early jazz, blues, old-time folk, bluegrass and country. Features performances by contemporary artists including Pete Seeger, Earl Scruggs and Taj Mahal, along with music historians, instrument builders and collectors. Produced and directed by Marc fields, executive produced by Michael Kantor, co-produced by Tony Trischka (who is also music director).

Nov. 11 -- PBS Arts from Chicago: American Masters Bill T. Jones: A Good Man, co-produced by A Good Man Film LLC, Kartemquin films, ITVS, WNET and the Media Process Group, with cooperation of the Ravina Festival, in collaboration with WTTW. A documentary that follows the director/choreographer as he leads his company in the creation of Fondly Do We Hope. Fervently Do We Pray, an original dance-theater piece in honor of Abraham Lincoln's bicentennial.

Nov. 18 -- PBS Arts From Cleveland: Women Who Rock. Produced by Susan Wittenberg and Carol Stein with an assist from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, presented in collaboration with WVIZ/PBS Ideastream – A documentary inspired by an exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that traces the indelible mark of women musicians on America's soundtrack from Bessie Smith to Janis Joplin to Lady Gaga.

Nov. 25 -- PBS Arts from Los Angeles: Great Performances "Il Postino from LA Opera" with Placido Domingo, produced by WNET New York in cooperation with PBS SoCal. The renowned tenor performs in a romantic new opera by composer Daniel Catan based on the Oscar-winning Italian film.

Dec. 16 -- PBS Arts from San Francisco: Great Performances "The Little Mermaid from San Francisco Ballet," produced by WNET New York in collaboration with KQED. Hans Christian Anderson's tale of love with John Neumeier's inventive production for the San Francisco Ballet, with an original score by Russian-American composer Lera Auerbach.

A final episode will be announced at a later date.

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