Yes, non-fiction still thrives in TV's fantasy, fictiony world


This story concludes the six-part season-preview package I sent to papers. If you scroll up (once I get them all posted), you'll see the other five stories.

 

By Mike Hughes

Amid a cascade of
make-believe, TV also has its non-fiction moments. Here are examples
this fall:

The best

-- “Great American
Read” (8 p.m. Tuesdays, PBS, Sept. 11). The opener was an overview,
but the remaining episodes offer a fun romp through genres. That
starts Sept. 18 with the broad question of “Who am I?” Upcoming
subjects are: heroes; villains and monsters; romance; and “other
worlds.” During this time, we can keep voting; the Oct. 23 finale
will reveal Americans' favorite book.

-- “Jane Fonda in
Five Acts” (8-10:15 p.m., HBO, Sept. 24). Here is a huge and varied
life, most of which was captured on film. Fonda is frank about every
phase – from Army recruiting celebrity to anti-war activist
(including regrets about her Hanoi trip), from pin-up beauty to
feminism activist, plus a couple of Oscars and much more. It's great
biography.

-- “The Mayo
Clinic: Faith, Hope, Science,” 9-11 p.m. Sept. 25, PBS. In a
then-little town (Rochester, Minn.), some Catholic nuns and two
atheistic doctors combined to create medical history. The Mayo
patients have ranged from nearby farmers to Bill Clinton and the
Dalai Lama. This documentary skillfully mixes history with current
portraits of doctors and patients.

The rest (series)

-- “Warriors of
Liberty City” (8 p.m. Sundays, Sept. 16, Starz). Most people know
Luther Campbell as Uncle Luke, the 2 Live Crew rapper who gave the
world “Me So Horny.” But in his alternate life, he leads a
program that helps nudge kids in his tough Miami neighborhood toward
college football scholarships. This is a fairly interesting
documentary ... leading into “America to Me,” the excellent
series that started Aug, 26.

-- “Dancing With
the Stars: Juniors” (8 p.m. Sundays, ABC, Oct. 7). Now the dancers
are celebrity kids, ages 9-14, paired with professional junior
ballroom dancers. There are two past champions involved – Jordan
Fisher co-hosting (with Frankie Muniz) and Adam Rippon as one of the
judges.

-- “The Alec
Baldwin Show” (10 p.m. Sundays, ABC, Oct. 14). Once ABC's biggest
ratings night – with “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey's
Anatomy” and such – Sundays now become non-scripted and
lower-cost. In this show, Baldwin will do long-form interviews.

-- “Native
America” (9 p.m. Tuesdays, PBS, Oct. 23). Spanning centuries and
crossing the continent, this four-week series tells of stone
skyscrapers and of pyramids in Mississippi and Mexico. It describes
America's first democracy, 500 years before the Declaration of
Independence ... and tells how horses, brought here for war, became
part of a mobile lifestyle.

-- “Real Country”
(10 p.m. Tuesdays, USA, Nov. 13). Shania Twain is producing the show
and on the panel with Jake Owen and Travis Tritt. They'll judge
individuals, duos and groups, picking a champion after eight weeks.
There will also be visits by Willie Nelson, Trace Adkins, Wynonna
Judd and more.

-- Also: There are
plenty of other cable shows, of course. Ashlee Simpson – whose
sister Jessica once scored with a young-marrieds reality show –
tries the same with her second husband Evan Ross. “Ashlee+Evan”
(10 p.m. Sundays on E) started Sept. 9. A few other examples: Tom
Arnold's “The Hunt for Trump Tapes,” 10 p.m. Tuesdays, starting
Sept. 18 on Viceland; Geraldo Rivera's “Murder in the Family,”
starting Nov. 3 on Reelz; and two people with Netflix shows that will
go beyond their usual comedy: “Norm Macdonald Has a Show,” with
celebrity conversations, starts Sept. 14; “Patriot Act With Hasan
Minhaj” is Oct. 28.

Separate
documentaries

-- “Dark Money”
(10-11:30 p.m. Oct. 1, PBS). Ever since a Supreme Court ruling
de-regulated campaigns, Montana voters have been flooded with
political ads. Most ads are negative, some are false and many are
hard to trace to their actual source. Voters eventually turned
against them, making those attacks help (not hurt) the targets. But
getting to that point took an intense effort by reporters, including
one who lived in his car. It's a potent film, under the “POV”
banner.

-- “The Circus”
(9-11 p.m. Oct. 8-9, PBS. Here is true Americana, an “American
Experience” film that captures the dreamers, scoundrels, geniuses
and liars. (P.T. Barnum was all of those, but not the first.) It's a
fun story, filled with serious moments and colorful characters.