The most prominent programming about African-Americans this year won't show up during Black History Month but will debut this fall instead on PBS.
Slavery and the Making of America, a four-part documentary produced by WNET(TV) New York and underwritten almost entirely by insurance company New York Life, will be among the most expansive programs ever to focus strictly on slavery. It is also among PBS's biggest productions this year.
"In terms of the programs themselves, the cost per program is fairly standard for upscale PBS documentaries," says William R. Grant, executive producer of Slavery
and director of science, natural history and feature programs at WNET(TV). "But, in terms of the whole project, for which I don't know yet how much will be spent, New York Life plans not only the television program and the broadcast Web site, but they are also funding separately from us a significant teacher-training and outreach effort. They also plan, as do we, an extensive promotional and advertising campaign."
Slavery, which also has related Web sites accessible through PBS.org and New York Life's dedicated site, Slaveryinamerica.org, is the type of program that PBS puts on the air that makes advertisers—or, rather, underwriters—stand up and take notice.
The primary goal of Slavery
is to document what is arguably the most sustained tragedy in this country's history. Through a series of reenactments filmed over a 14-month period, along with discussions by historians and academics, Slavery
does the seemingly impossible in recounting slavery from the perspective of the slaves.
It uses archival photographs culled from hundreds of sources, including the National Archives and private collections.
Senior producer Dante J. James was also behind This Far by Faith: African-American Spiritual Journeys, a six-part series that aired on PBS last year.
The fact that Slavery
falls well outside Black History Month isn't unusual for PBS. In fact, the public network says, it's in keeping with its mission to continually focus on all segments of the American population, including both the great and tragic events that have formed this country.
"In a way, if you look at the sweep of programming that PBS has put on over time, from The Civil War, Reconstruction: The Second Civil War
[The Rise and Fall of] Jim Crow, we feel like we almost have a continuity of series," says PBS Senior Vice President John F. Wilson. "If you look at all these significant works together, over time, we are putting together a television history on slavery."
is public television's most prominent TV event, PBS will also air a number of programs during Black History Month and will make several specials available to stations (see box).