AMERICAN EXPERIENCE today announced its new season lineup for Winter-Spring 2015. The season premieres on January 6, 2015 with
Ripley: Believe It or Not, a profile of the eccentric creator of one of the first and most durable media franchises. Also premiering in January is Klansville U.S.A., a look at the 1960s rise of the Ku Klux Klan in a surprising state, North Carolina; and Edison, an illuminating portrait of the iconoclastic genius whose invention of sound recording, motion pictures and electric light propelled America into the modern age.
Premiering in February is The Big Burn, the dramatic story of the massive wildfire that swept across the Northern Rockies in the summer of 1910, and The Forgotten Plague, a look back at the scourge of tuberculosis which, for nearly two centuries, was the nation's leading cause of death, responsible for a shocking one in four fatalities at its height. The spring season concludes on April 28, 2015, with Rory Kennedy's acclaimed Last Days in Vietnam. Airing in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the evacuation of American forces from Saigon at the end of the war, the film recounts the dramatic, hour-by-hour story of the American personnel who defied orders to evacuate as many of their South Vietnamese allies and friends as possible.
"More than ever before, this season's films reflect on times when America was dealing with many of the issues that we find ourselves facing today -- murky wars with no simple way out, institutionalized racism, and terrifying contagions that arouse public panic and fear," said Executive Producer Mark Samels. "Also fascinating to watch through the lens of our current age are our biographies of Thomas Edison and Robert Ripley. Edison would recognize the rapid-fire pace of technological invention that shapes our lives today because he had been at the center of such change in his day. And Ripley, with his energetic promotion of the weird and wondrous, would have been at home in an era of reality TV and bizarre videos on YouTube."
This season also marks the launch of Beyond the Doc, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE's new digital shorts series designed to expand upon the storytelling of the feature-length documentaries in the series. "These original short videos give viewers more of what they want -- interesting, surprising and smart content," said Samels. Beyond the Doc topics will range from the status of wildfires in the United States, to an interview with Nikita Khrushchev's son, to a tour of the oddities housed at the Ripley Entertainment main warehouse in Orlando and more.
In Fall 2015, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE will present Walt Disney, a four-hour, two-night film that explores the life and legacy of one of America's most enduring and influential storytellers. Directed and produced by Sarah Colt (Henry Ford), the film features rare archival footage from the Disney vaults, scenes from some of his greatest films, and includes interviews with animators and artists who worked on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Imagineers who helped design Disneyland.
AMERICAN EXPERIENCE airs on Tuesdays at 9:00 p.m. ET (check local listings) on PBS. Complete information on the Winter-Spring 2015 season follows:
Ripley: Believe It or Not - January 6, 2015, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET
Produced and directed by Cathleen O'Connell
Robert LeRoy Ripley rose to fame during the Great Depression, transforming himself from a skinny, bucktoothed boy into an entertainer who mesmerized the nation with a razzle-dazzle blend of homespun Americana, colorful exotica and freakish oddities. Over three decades, his "Believe It Or Not!" franchise grew into an entertainment empire, expanding from newspapers to every form of "new media" in the 20th century: radio, film and, ultimately, television. At the center of it all was Ripley, whose obsession with the odd and keen eye for the curious made him one of the richest men in the country. Americans not only loved his bizarre fare, but were fascinated by the man himself, and the eccentric, globetrotting playboy became an unlikely national celebrity.
Klansville U.S.A. - January 13, 2015, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET
Produced and directed by Callie Wiser
As the civil rights movement grew in the 1960s, the long dormant Ku Klux Klan reemerged with a vengeance. That the Klan would rise up once again wasn't surprising, but where the reincarnation took place was. North Carolina, long seen as the most progressive southern state, saw a boom in Klan membership under the leadership of Bob Jones, the most successful Grand Dragon in the country. In just three years, he grew the North Carolina Klan from a handful of friends to some 10,000 members -- more than the Klans of all other Southern states combined. In the process, Jones helped give the Tarheel State a new nickname: "Klansville, USA."
Edison - January 20, 2015, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET
Written and directed by Michelle Ferrari; produced by Ferrari and Amanda Pollak
By the time he died in 1931, Thomas Alva Edison was one of the most famous men in the world and the name "Edison" was virtually synonymous with invention. The holder of more patents than any other inventor in history, Edison had been lauded during his lifetime for the invention of sound recording, motion pictures and electric light, and would be remembered as the genius who created the modern world. Edison explores the complex alchemy that accounts for the enduring celebrity of America's most famous inventor, offering new perspectives on the man and his milieu, and illuminating not only the true nature of invention, but also its role in turn-of-the-century America's rush into the future.
The Big Burn - February 3, 2015, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET
Written and directed by Stephen Ives; produced by Amanda Pollak
Inspired by Timothy Egan's best-selling book, The Big Burn is the dramatic story of the massive wildfire that swept across the Northern Rockies in the summer of 1910. The fire devoured more than three million acres in 36 hours, confronting the fledgling U.S. Forest Service with a catastrophe that would define the agency and the nation's fire policy for much of the 20th century. As America tries to manage its fire-prone landscapes in the 21st century, The Big Burn provides a cautionary tale of heroism and sacrifice, arrogance and greed, hubris and, ultimately, humility, in the face of nature's frightening power.
The Forgotten Plague - February 10, 2015, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET
Produced, written, and directed by Chana Gazit
By the dawn of the 19th century, the most deadly killer in human history, tuberculosis, had killed one in seven of all the people who have ever lived. Throughout the 1800s, the disease struck America with a vengeance, ravaging communities and touching the lives of almost every family. The battle against the deadly bacteria had a profound and lasting impact on America. It shaped medical and scientific pursuits, social habits, economic development, western expansion and government policy. Yet both the disease and its impact are poorly understood; in the words of one writer, tuberculosis is our "forgotten plague."
Last Days in Vietnam - April 28, 2015, 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET
Produced and directed by Rory Kennedy
During the chaotic final days of the Vietnam War, as the North Vietnamese Army closed in on Saigon, the South Vietnamese resistance crumbled. The United States had only a skeleton crew of diplomats and military operatives still in the country. With a communist victory inevitable and the U.S. readying to withdraw, many Americans on the ground worried their South Vietnamese allies and friends faced imprisonment or death at the hands of the approaching North Vietnamese. With the clock ticking and the city under fire, a number of heroic Americans took matters into their own hands, engaging in unsanctioned and often makeshift operations in a desperate effort to save as many South Vietnamese as possible. Last Days in Vietnam airs in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the evacuation.
About AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
Television's most-watched history series, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2013. The series has been hailed as "peerless" (ˆ), "the most consistently enriching program on television" (Chicago Tribune), and "a beacon of intelligence and purpose" (Houston Chronicle). On air and online, the series brings to life the incredible characters and epic stories that have shaped America's past and present. Acclaimed by viewers and critics alike, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE documentaries have been honored with every major broadcast award, including 30 Emmy Awards, four duPont-Columbia Awards, and 16 George Foster Peabody Awards, one most recently for the series represented by Freedom Riders, Triangle Fire and Stonewall Uprising.
Exclusive corporate funding for AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is provided by Liberty Mutual Insurance. Major funding provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Public Television Viewers. AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is produced for PBS by WGBH Boston.