PBS highlights news documentaries, arts programming at Television Critics Association tour

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Rahoul Ghose/PBS

"Frontline" correspondent James Jacoby and Retro Report reporter Scott Michels speak at the Television Critics Association Press Tour Monday in Pasadena, Calif.

PASADENA, Calif. — Frontline began following the firestorm on college campuses around the war between Israel and Hamas in its earliest days, leading to “Crisis on Campus,” a documentary airing April 30.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that these campuses have been in crisis,” said Frontline EP Raney Aronson-Rath Monday during a panel at the Television Critics Association Press Tour. “We have been documenting the upheaval literally from the first days — the hateful rhetoric, the recriminations and violence, the upheavals in leadership, the heated academic intellectual debate, and the explosion all onto the national political scene.”

Frontline is reporting the series with Retro Report, the New York–based independent newsroom. Aronson-Rath said Frontline mobilized quickly and assigned reporters to universities. One critical question they asked students was where they got their news.

“Some of the answers have been really surprising and edifying and, actually, I can’t wait to share some of that in the documentary because I think it’s going to be helpful for us all to understand that the so-called news ecosystem, the mainstream media, and social media, and the larger ecosystem of news carries a lot of mis- and disinformation,” she said. “But also, this is a passionate group of students who are experiencing their own lived experiences, and so hearing from them right away was really powerful.”

Panelist Jerry Kang, a UCLA School of Law professor, tackled why elite universities, particularly their law schools, have been at the center of protests.  

“Elite institutions get media attention,” Kang said, adding there’s pressure to take a stance. “Elite institutions carry a lot of power. Second, why law schools? It’s because I think the students who go to law school are the students who are most invested in thinking about the politics of the time, the challenges of freedom of expression, and also in the nature of actually making institutional change.”

Engagement plan for ‘American Revolution’

The Frontline panel followed a session in which PBS CEO Paula Kerger announced that a 12-hour Ken Burns series, The American Revolution, will air in the fall of 2025.

PBS CEO Paula Kerger
Kerger (Photo: Rahoul Ghose/PBS)

“To launch this seminal film, we’re building the largest engagement plan in our history,” she said. “And we’re building out a wide array of additional programming to examine how the birth of our democracy continues to shape the way we live, govern, and create.”

The initiative, called PBS: America@250, will examine politics, history, science and arts.

“PBS stations will explore these topics at the local level, convening conversations and connecting community issues to larger stories,” she said. “And we’ll serve every age group.”

Kerger said she has been monitoring the congressional budget impasse and has taken nothing for granted.

“Right now, where our funding sits in Congress is that if it just moves forward on a continuing resolution, we will be okay,” she said. “Now, I say that with the deep recognition that I never take the federal appropriation for granted, and I don’t think any of our stations do.

“These are difficult times,” Kerger continued. “… I believe it is up to us to demonstrate the importance of the work we do, the content that we provide, the presence that we have in communities. And remember that the federal appropriation largely goes to fund our stations and their operations.”

Additional announcements included:

  • Animated kids show City Island will get a second season.
  • Ken Burns’ Leonardo da Vinci is scheduled to air Nov. 18 and 19.
  • Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution, a three-part series, will air this summer.
  • PBS is celebrating the half-century mark for Nova and Austin City Limits.
Hill (Photo: Rahoul Ghose/PBS)

Other upcoming arts programs include Art Happens Here with John Lithgow, which follows the Emmy- and Tony Award–winning actor trying jazz singing, dancing, ceramics and silk-screen printing. Few people seem more joyful than Lithgow as he experiments with new ways to express himself in the April 26 special. The show could be expanded to additional installments.

The four-part The Express Way with Dulé Hill, premiering April 23, shows how art transforms communities. While audiences know Hill as an actor from The West Wing and Psych, he was a dancer first.

In Express Way, he travels the country and shows how diverse people — including older burlesque dancers in San Francisco’s Chinatown and a luthier in Appalachia — revel in being artists and sharing their work with their communities.

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