Seven public media projects got a boost July 21 with the announcement of grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which included almost $2 million for pubcasters. The largest grants, each for $600,000, will support documentaries from WGBH in Boston and Firelight Media in New York. WGBH will use the grant for a two-hour American Experience episode, “Into the Amazon: The Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific Expedition.” The documentary, produced by American Experience Executive Producer Mark Samels, covers a 1913 expedition to an unmapped territory of the Amazon led by Theodore Roosevelt and Brazilian colonel Candido Rondon. Firelight Media, whose documentaries frequently air on PBS, will use the grant to fund Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Firelight founder and filmmaker Stanley Nelson is leading the project to produce the two-hour documentary.
• WTTW announced a major gift Monday from the family of Renée Crown, board vice chair of licensee Window to the World Communication Inc. (WWCI), and will name its northwest Chicago media center in her honor. The donation celebrates Crown’s birthday as well as her tenure as “an extraordinary trustee and leader” of WWCI since 1981, the station said. It did not reveal the amount of the contribution. • Premiums sure have come a long way. John Kerr, former WGBH development manager, recently ran across this Channel 2-Toy at a friend’s house.
Local USA, a 13-part documentary series focusing on “story, character, region and place,” premieres today on the World Channel. The half-hour series, a co-production of WTTW in Chicago and World Channel, showcases stories from pubTV stations nationwide, as well as independent productions. Each episode may contain multiple short segments, or just one or two films. One episode, “Death and Dying,” profiles a respectful embalmer in Toledo, Ohio; a dying woman in Brooklyn who is planning her final dinner party; and an urban philosopher in Memphis. The stories “build on one another to provide not only a better understanding of the overall topic, but also of what unites the U.S. in all its diversity — and what makes various places distinctive,” WTTW said in its announcement. Hosts are Evan Allen-Gessesse, a producer, director, writer and photographer, and Chicago-based actress Niccole Thurman.
Roger Ebert, the legendary film critic who got his television start on Chicago PBS station WTTW, died April 4 after a long battle with cancer. He was 70. “Everyone at WTTW is deeply saddened by the loss of Roger Ebert, whose courageous battle with cancer in recent years was an inspiration to us all,” WTTW President Dan Schmidt said in a statement.
The Chicago station topped several program categories, and its staff took awards for individual achievements in television crafts. Architect Michael Graves: A Grand Tour won for outstanding cultural documentary. It was produced by Daniel Andries with associate producer Elizabeth Reeves and executive producers Dan Soles and V.J. McAleer. Andries and Geoffrey Baer, who wrote the program, received Emmys for outstanding crafts achievement off-air. WTTW’s Kindred, produced by Michael Sternoff, Beth Bennett, Scott Lamps, Marl McLennan, Marnie Sprenger, Maria Bain Ferraro, Jaclyn Foutz, Aj Gomberg and Susan Buchanan, was named outstanding topical documentary.
Intelligence Squared U.S., the nonpartisan public policy debate series airing on public radio and some public TV stations, is coming to PBS Plus in January, with Chicago’s WTTW as the presenting station.