Mark Samels retires from ‘American Experience,’ Susan Bellows named acting EP

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Mark Samels, a documentary filmmaker who served as EP of American Experience for 16 years, has retired from producing station WGBH in Boston.

Samels (Photo: WGBH/American Experience)

Samels joined the production team as senior producer 22 years ago and later became the third EP to lead the historical documentary series, a signature PBS primetime series since its 1988 premiere. Susan Bellows, senior producer, has been appointed acting EP as WGBH searches for a permanent successor.

“I always felt greatly privileged to work for American Experience, a series that exemplifies the highest standards of filmmaking craftsmanship, historical accuracy, and journalistic integrity,” said Samels in a news release. “I will deeply miss the many talented people I was lucky enough to get to know and work alongside for so long.”

Samels began his career as an independent filmmaker and worked as a production executive at public TV stations in West Virginia and Pennsylvania before joining WGBH.

He supervised more than 130 films as EP of American Experience, many of which went on to win major broadcasting awards, including national Emmys, George Foster Peabody Awards and Writers Guild of America Awards. In 2015, the AmEx film Last Days in Vietnam was nominated for an Academy Award nomination for best documentary feature.

In its news release, WGBH credited Samels for expanding the breadth of topics and filmmaking style of the series, “allowing for more contemporary topics and witness-driven storytelling.”

“Mark brought serious intellectual heft — and a keen sense of entertainment — to every American Experience film,” said John Bredar, VP of national programs at WGBH. “He has an uncanny sense of history, what was consequential then, and is deeply relevant now. We will miss him and wish him all the best.”

Other films produced under Samels were Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation, Freedom Riders, The Murder of Emmett Till and My Lai.

Bellows (Photo: WGBH/American Experience)

Bellows has been a leading editorial force for the series under Samels, according to WGBH. She joined the series in 2003 and produced and directed JFK, a 2013 AmEx miniseries that won an Emmy-Award. More recently, she wrote, directed and produced The Bombing of Wall Street, which premiered in 2018.

Earlier in her career, Bellows served as senior producer for Africans in America, an acclaimed historical miniseries produced by WGBH. She also worked on major productions from Blackside Inc., including The Great Depression and America’s War on Poverty; and co-produced New Worlds, New Forms, an episode of the eight-hour miniseries Dancing, produced by WNET in New York City.

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