American Experience

It's the Big Top, the big show, the big lie ... and epic Americana


For all of its flaws, the circus tends to deliver epic Americana. It's has dazzle, daring and a sense of sheer fun. Much of that is also delivered in the season-opening "American Experience" documentary, Monday and Tuesday (Oct. 8 and 9) on PBS. It does capture the flaws and quirks of a circus, but it also reflects centuries of invention and ingenuity. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

It was a grand, golden age ... for one-percent of us


Yes, this is a big time for the commercial networks -- Grammys, Super Bowl, Winter Olympics, more. But PBS is countering with three nights of terrific documentaries. It's Winnie Mandela on Monday (Feb. 5), "The Gilded Age" on Tuesday and the oldest human remains in the Americas on Wednesday. Here's the "Gilded" story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

This Amazon epic had danger, discovery ... and an ex-president


My own bucket list has never included a trip through the Amazon, where even the sloths are dangerous. But then again, I'm no Teddy Roosevelt. On Tuesday (Jan, 9), PBS has an ambitious film about Roosevelt's adventure in 1914. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

We all know what
ex-presidents do. Some paint, some para-sail, all write books and
give speeches ... but only one went on a deadly journey down an
uncharted tributary of the Amazon.

Forty years later, a rag-tag exit brings deep emotions


I was lucky enough to leave Vietnam in the standard way -- end of tour, scheduled airline, no hurry. Many people weren't as fortunate; they were caught up in the final flurry, as Americans and their Vietnamese supporters rushed to get out. Now, 40 years later, Rory Kennedy has made a compelling documentary that airs Tuesday (April 28) on PBS, Here's the story I sent to papers.

By Mike Hughes

It's a compelling story, believe it or not


There are plenty of interesting stories on PBS' "American Experience," but the new Robert Ripley profile is one of my favorites. This is a downright compelling chunk of Americana; here's the story I sent to papers:

By MIKE HUGHES

Picture a modern
media star – smooth, slick and handsome, with strong voice and easy
manner.

Facing steep obstacles, former Amish find new lives


On a pleasant California afternoon, Naomi Kramer visited the Santa Monica Pier. It's a place of bright lights and cheery noises ... worlds away from her Amish childhood in Missouri.

Earlier that day, she and others told reporters about the complex notion of leaving the Amish and starting a new life. Here's the story I sent to papers:



Henry Ford: A life of fierce contrasts


Lots of lists came out last month, offering TV's 10 best shows. They had the usual suspects -- cable dramas, mostly, plus (on the wiser lists)  "Big Bang Theory." What they overlooked, however, were three PBS shows that are consistently top-quality -- "American Masters," "Frontline" and "American Exprience."

Suddenly, war became close and personal


Some of TV's best non-fiction moments have come from "American Experience" and/or the Burns boys, Ric and Ken. Now Ric Burns has a superb new "Experience" documentary Tuesday (Sept.18); here's the story I sent to papers:

By MIKE HUGHES

It was going to be a quick fight, a
skirmish between neighbors. Abraham Lincoln accepted 30-day
enlistments to fight the uprising in the South.

"Idol": Jacob is gone, but the music soars


So there I was, bummed by Jacob Lusk being ousted tonight from "American Idol." We knew it would happen sometime; the poor guy had spent lots of weeks in the bottom three. Still, you hate to see the ouster of one of the most magnificent voices in the 10 years of "Idol."

And then, by happy coincidence, I plugged in an advance screener of Monday's "American Experience." It provided a reminder that Lusk's music style will go on and on; it already has.

Monday (Feb. 2) TV: Too much, too good


We all know that Feb. 2 repeats itself over and over. That's what happened to Bill Murray in the "Groundhog Day" movie; the repeating was, we were told, a bad thing.

This week, however, I think it would be kind of good. Monday has way too many strong shows for one night; it would be a good day to repeat -- or at least to put our VCR's or TIVO's into hyperdrive.