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PBS Day 2 of TCA Press Tour in Pasadena

TCS/PBS Day 2

By: Judy Shields

Pasadena, California (The Hollywood Times) – 2/2/2019 “Thank you for joining us for day two of the TCA Press Tour. We’ve assembled another line-up toda that captures the sweep of PBS’s programming, from a conversation with the playwright Terrence McNally, to an appearance by Josh Groban, to a preview of “Chasing the Moon,” a six hour documentary about the Apollo space program.  But the day begins with a look at one of the most consequential and least understood periods in American history.”  Jonathan Brazilian, Chief Operating Officer of PBS.

Reconstruction: America After the Civil War, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. brings viewers the definitive documentary on this important era.  It’s an era of achievement and challenge, an era of progress and violent pushback.  It’s impossible to understand the country today without studying the lessons of Reconstruction.

This four hour series presented by WETA will air on April 9th and 16th.  In the weeks before the launch, Dr. Gates and his colleagues will bring the conversation into communities across the country.  Jonathan Brazilian said before introducing Dr. Gates.

Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. present the definitive histor of one of the least understood chapters in America history – the transformative years following the American Civil War, when the nation struggled to rebuilt itself in the face of profound loss, massive destruction and revolutionary social change.  The dream of an interracial democracy was brief, and the broken promises of the Reconstruction era haunt the country to this day. Premieres Tuesda, April 9 & 16.

The panel: David W. Blight, Ph.D., author, and Yale University history professor; Kimberle Crenshaw, Columbia University and UCLA law professors Eric Foner, Ph.D., Columbia University history professor & Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., executive producer and host

Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: “Thank you. So why Reconstruction and why now?  Reconstruction, as you know, was the period following the Civil War between 1865 and 1877, when black people experienced more freedom and rights than at any other time before  in American history.  It was the embodiment of Lincoln’s vision of a New Birth of Freedom.

Understanding Reconstruction and its rollback is pivotal to understanding the history of race relations in our societ today.  My partner Dyllan McGee and I turned to the dean of Reconstruction studies, Eric Foner, the man sitting over there on the far right of that screen.  The brother has written nine books on Reconstruction , with a tenth book to come out in September. His is the king of Reconstruction.”

(Laughter)

Question. When you look at kind of how you ended up at the end, does this feel more positive or negative than you initially expected it would be?

Dr. Gates: “Well I would like everybody to take a crack at that. But for me, the first motivation was to bring the achievements of black people, people who were 90 percent of black people on the eve of the Civil War were enslaved.  And so you might say 99 percent of them were illiterate, right?  Because it was illegal to read and write. They’re freed partially by the Emancipation Proclamation. I’m a prisoner of optimism, and you all know that from all the films that I do.  You know, I’m upbeat per that’s just my nature, but and Kimberle’s comment about this experiment, interracial democracy you know, we want it to be a model, an analog, a parable about the possibilities of achieving the right inscribed in the Constitution and implicit in the Declaration but also about the perils, how fragile our rights are.  So its both things at the same time.

But what about you guys? Do you end up optimistic or pessimistic?”

Kimberle Crenshaw: Well, I’m excited by what’s revealed in the series and in particular, the answers that it gives to people who want to understand why, given how long ago the civil rights movement happened, given how long ago the end of slavery happened, why do you still have so much racial inequality? Why do we still have so much strife? Why does a 20 year old go into Mother Emanuel nad kill innocent people? one of the oldest persons killed there wa in the eighth decade. And he brutally killed her. Shot her several times in the face. What does that mean? What does that tell us?

I think one of the things that this series brings forward is that the narrative war that the South won is one that continues to shape who we think abut race. It continue to shape the actions of individuals. It continues to be the logic that holds so much together.

Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: Beautifully put, David?

David W. Blight, Ph.D.: Well, I would just add to your question about the positive and negative, all revolutions have counter revolutions.  The Civil War and Reconstruction, especially in the Constitution is a revolution.  That’s why we now call it the second American Revolution.  But look through history. How many counter revolutions were there against the French Revolution? And Reconstruction is that kind of story.  It’s a rise and a fall.  I’d also just add here that history is never just an escalator up or an escalator down.  It’s always an escalator kind of moving in all directions at once.  We always want it to be positive and progressive and hopeful, and Americans seem to breathe it in their air that our history is supposed to be progressive. We need to kind of get that out of the way and realize that revolutions are always going to have counterrevolutions. Reconstruction is the template for that story especially about race for the rest of American history, because most of the issues of Reconstruction are still right here on the table.”

Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: Eric?

Eric Foner, Ph.D.: well, I’m an optimist, like Skip is.  And to me what is inspiring in this story is the very struggle of people coming out of slavery, plus the numerous allies they had in The North abolitionists, radical Republicans and, indeed, some whites people in the South to make this an interracial democracy for the first time, to establish schools and churches. Not everything was wiped away. The political rights were. But the churches survived to be the springboard for future struggle.  The families that were reconstituted after the end of slavery survived, of course.  The black community,which was really crated in a modern way in Reconstruction survives. So we shouldn’t think of this as okay, there was a great progress, and then everything is wiped out.

This will definitely be a show to have high school kids watch for the history value of the story.  I don’t even remember learning Reconstruction during my history classes.

American Master – “Terrence McNally: Every Act of Life”

MICHAEL KANTOR: Good morning. I’m Michael Kantor, executive producer of the AMERICAN MASTERS series from WNET.

AMERICAN MASTERS “Terrence McNally: Every Act of Life” lifts the curtain on the Emmy- and four time Tony winner’s personal and professional successes, struggles and failures. Over the course of his six decade career, he’s written trailblazing plays, musicals, operas, and screenplays about sexuality, homophobia, faith, the power of art, and finding meaning in every moment of life. Among them are “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “Love! Valour! Compassion!,” “Ragtime,” “Dead Man Walking,” and “The Full Monty,” to name just a few.

Explore four-time Tony-winning playwright Terrence McNally’s six groundbreaking decades in theater, from Kiss of the Spider Women, Love! Valor! Compassion! And Master Class to Ragtime, The Visit and Mothers and Sons. The film also delves into McNally’s pursuit of love and inspiration throughout his career, LGBTQ activism, triumph over addiction, and the power of the arts to transform society. Produced, directed and written by Jeff Kaufman. Premieres Friday, June 14th.

Panelist were Terrence McNally; actor Michael Shannon, who will be starring in a new production of “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” this May on Broadway alongside Audra McDonald; producer, director, and writer Jeff Kaufman; and actor F. Murray Abraham who starred in multiple McNally plays, including “The Ritz,” “Bad Habits,” “It’s Only a Play,” and the original 1987 production of “Frankie and Johnny.”

Q&A:

QUESTION: Mr. McNally, can you talk about Steinbeck telling you that if you want to be successful as a writer, you don’t want to do theater?

TERRENCE McNALLY: It’s wasn’t if you want to be successful as a writer. He said, “Just don’t write for the theater, period. It will break your heart,” and John wrote two plays that were not successful, and they were very painful experiences for him many, many years later. I said, “John, you also wrote Of ‘Mice and Men,’ still one of the most performed plays in the American cannon,” but, no, he remembered the negatively received one. I think he was protecting me when he told me that, that advice.

QUESTION: For the entire panel, if you had to describe Mr. McNally’s work I know he’s done a wide range of topics and approaches but is there a common thread through his work that stands out?

MICHAEL SHANNON: I think it’s in the title of one of his plays: “Compassion.” He’s one of the most profoundly compassionate playwrights that I’ve ever when you look at a play like “Frankie and Johnny,” it’s just so humane and not trying to make any point other than that human beings are there for one another, and the mystery of that and how you navigate that and how you get the most that you can out of that.

F. MURRAY ABRAHAM: He said it. That’s it. Perfect. I would like to add love. I mean, that whole title of that play says it for me.

QUESTION: Mr. McNally, I’m wondering if you could talk about writing plays with gay content. Was that something that was a personal struggle for you to do? Was it ever a commercial battle to be able to do it? I mean, obviously, Broadway has always been so much more progressive in terms of gay issues and other issues for other communities than has TV and film, but it is still Broadway is still a commercial enterprise, and you, obviously, have to get people into seats. So was it ever a personal and/or commercial struggle?

TERRENCE McNALLY: No. I believe you write what you know about, and one thing I do know about is being a gay man, since I am a gay man. And I was never in the closet. I think that was probably my salvation. So my first play had gay characters in it. And I didn’t think but when you write your first play, you don’t know it’s going to end up on Broadway. So when I now read it’s the first play on Broadway with gay characters that actually had sex instead of being just the witty next door neighbor who drops in for sugar

(Laughter.)

or the alcoholic who commits suicide off stage, it was a character who wasn’t dead at the end and which had sex with the other man in the play. But I didn’t know that play was going to end up on Broadway. So I’m a great believer in “Write what you know about.” So it was not a conscious “I’m going to do something really different and write about gay men.” No.

JIM DUNFORD: Good morning. I’m Jim Dunford, Vice President of Programming and Operations at PBS, and I’m happy to be here to introduce this session. To steal a line from David Letterman, our next guest needs no introduction. One of the most popular performers of our time, Josh Groban is an internationally renowned singer, songwriter, and actor, the only artist who appeared twice in the top 20 best-selling albums list in the past decade according to Billboard. Josh has used his considerable talents to conquer every medium from Broadway to film to television. He has appeared in movies such as “Crazy Stupid Love”; on Broadway, in “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812,” a performance nominated for a Tony Award and praised by the New York Times as absolutely wonderful. And he recently costarred with Tony Danza in the Netflix series “The Good Cop.” His latest album, the critically acclaimed “Bridges,” features nine of his own original songs. The release of “Bridges” was accompanied by a North American tour including a stop in Madison Square Garden last November. Joining Josh on stage as special guests were Tony Award-winner Idina Menzel and Grammy Award- winner Jennifer Nettles. Captured on film that night, the concert reveals Groban to be the consummate American showman. We are delighted to bring this special to our viewers. JOSH GROBAN BRIDGES appears in March on PBS stations.

QUESTION: What is the feeling for you like at that moment, full choir, full orchestra, full house? Is it as fresh for you as it ever was when you are doing that?

JOSH GROBAN: Yeah. I mean, I was thinking back to the first time I filmed a concert special for PBS. It was actually here in Pasadena, and I had never toured before. You know, when I think back now to how many hundreds of performances I’ve done and how many concerts, I still get just as nervous, but the nerves now are an excitement. I’m able to channel the nerves now to a place of really wanting to go out there and take control of the night and have a good time. Before, the nerves would be debilitating. Before, I would second guess, and I would get tight, and I would you know. Now it’s just more of a pacing and “I can’t wait to get out there” kind of thing. But I care just as much before every show and especially on a night when you know it’s in a city that has given you so much, a venue that has such a storied history, and when you know there’s also 17 cameras. There’s a little bit of just an added nervousness. It’s fun. That song is at the end of the night. So at that point, when you have everybody out there, that choir has already sung with you on five or six other songs. That orchestra has been, you know, playing so gorgeously all night. We are all, at that point, really exhausted, really happy. You know, it’s there’s no greater feeling in the world than that moment where you are able to say goodnight and leave everything that you have left in you on your final few songs and then say good bye.

QUESTION: Do you always have a sense of when the audience is willing or interesting in going with you to that funny place and when they would just as soon you sit at the piano and sing?

JOSH GROBAN: You learn to read the room better as you get more experience. I remember, a little while back, I did a television theme song medley for the Emmy’s, and this was before I had done any comedy. So this was, kind of, before I was even got couch time on any talk shows. So nobody really knew anything about me at that point except for the serious guys staring you down on billboards or big ballads and anthems and things like that. So when I went out and tried to, kind of, like, take the piss with it a little bit and have some fun with it, a lot of people were, like, super confused about that. So I realized very quickly, like, oh, it’s a slow burn. Like, you have to show different sides of you in a gradual way, an intelligent way, and you can’t just hit it over the head with it. So I’m thankful for those opportunities, honestly, where whether it’s “The Office” or “Kimmel” or anything else where they’ve given me a chance to, kind of, use my music in a funnier way, because I like doing it.

QUESTION: What are your memories of that show opening a pretty big door for you, and what were your memories of David E. Kelley and working with him and all of that?

JOSH GROBAN: David E. Kelley, that experience was quite unusual in the best possible way. You know, that was before you see there’s so many ways you can break now, and that was, kind of, one of the last remaining old school ways that somebody could be plucked by someone like a David E. Kelley. I was singing at a charity event. I think it was the City of Hope. And the cast of “Ally McBeal” was being honored. My performance, like David Foster had a spot in the show where he could, like, showcase new talent, and he said, “Hey, there’s this kid, Josh. He’s young. He’s got this big voice. You’re going to love him.” I was sandwiched between B.B. King and Ray Charles. So the pressure was on, and I sang my face off. And I was, like, “Okay. How ….” I got out of there. We got the call from David E. Kelley saying, “Hey, I’m writing an episode of ‘Ally McBeal’ called ‘The Wedding.’ Robert Downey Jr. and Calista Flockhart are going to get married. We love this kid’s voice. We’d love him to sing ‘Ave Maria,’ something, 30 seconds at the end of the show.” Robert Downey Jr., at that point, was unable to come to film that episode. Stuff happened. He was off the show. He basically said

(Laughter.)

I don’t need to get into it. But, at the time, it was a thing, and he had an episode to film. And so David E. Kelley basically said, “Can you act?” I said, “Well, I did ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ in eleventh grade,” you know.

(Laughter.)

And there was no audition. There was no preparation. There was just this new script still called “The Wedding.” To this day, it’s still called “The Wedding.” There was no wedding. And he rewrote overnight an entire script that went from a wedding to an agoraphobic kid who was afraid to leave his house and wants to go to the prom and hired Ally McBeal to go to the prom and then sings a song at the prom. So a long winded answer, but that was “A Star is Born” minus, at that point, the star actually being born because it took many years after that. But I showed up on set, and everybody was understanding and so kind, and Calista so much of acting is reacting, and the people on set Calista was so giving to somebody who was this new kid, who had never been there. And, of course, their world was turned upside down because they didn’t know what was going on with the show at that point. And then I sang that song, and the best compliment I could have gotten after it came out was people were getting calls saying, “Who was the singer you hired to do the voice for that actor?” So that was nice. That was, I think, the first time I was able to experience how powerful music on television and music as part of a narrative would be in my career, because I’ve never been, like, a Top 40 radio/MTV kind of artist. I’ve always relied on really nice moments, storytelling with songs where a song could be placed somewhere that it would feed and serve a greater narrative, and that was right down the middle of what that did for me. I’ll never forget it.

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE “Chasing the Moon”

This series about the space race, from its earliest beginnings to the monumental achievement of the first lunar landing in 1969 and beyond, premieres July 2019. Chasing the Moon, a film by Robert Stone, thoroughly reimagines the race to the moon for a new generation, upending conventional mythology and recasting the Space Age as a fascinating stew of scientific innovation, policial calcuation, media spectacle, visionary impulses and personal drama.  With a visual feast of previously overloked and lsot material, the film features a diverse cast of characters who played key roles in thes historic events. Penguin Random House will publish the book Chasing the Moon to coincide with the PBS premiere, Monday through Wednesday, July 8-10.

PERRY SIMON: It was the moment that captivated the world. One giant leap that took the crew of Apollo 11 to the surface of the moon, and now on the 50th anniversary of that world changing event, it’s time to look back to that incredible moment, look ahead to the future, and look to the stars to understand our place in the universe. And on that light note, I’m Perry Simon, Head of Programming for PBS, and I’m thrilled to introduce our next panel, presented by AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, about their new film, “Chasing the Moon,” a six hour documentary series airing this July, which is the centerpiece of an exciting new summer of space multi platform programming events on PBS.

But as the American space program began to deliver real results, NASA and the Kennedy administration saw an opportunity to harness the public’s curiosity and change that perception. They introduced the first and only woman working in Mission Control, and they introduced a new class of celebrity: the astronaut. Americans wanted to meet these heroes, and the publicity demands began to grow. Let’s take a look.

Joining me today are Mark Bloom, who reported on all the Apollo missions for the New York Daily News; Poppy Northcutt, who gained worldwide attention as the first woman to serve in the all male bastion of NASA’s Mission Control; and Robert Stone, writer, director, and producer of “Chasing the Moon.” We’re ready for your questions.

QUESTION: Ms. Northcutt, do you cringe as much, hearing that interview now, as we just did here?

POPPY NORTHCUTT: In a way, yes. But, also, you know, this is 50 years ago. At that time, every American woman, as well as women all around the world, were basically living in a ses of sexism. So, yes, it’s cringeworthy.

QUESTION: At the time, did you think it was he was a little out of line, or did you just figure that’s the way it was?

POPPY NORTHCUTT: To a certain degree, I figured it was the way it was. As I said, we existed in a sea of sexism. But that process, for me, was part of what enlightened my future. I became more and more aware of that sexism, especially being cast into the public light that way.

QUESTION: Did you have a sense of how large the media’s role was in controlling the message where the astronauts were concerned?

MARK BLOOM: Well, we had mixed messages from NASA, and we delivered mixed messages. NASA liked us for what we could provide, which was the most dramatic coverage possible. And we also liked it for what it was doing for our careers, covering the biggest story of our lives. On the other hand, we were also covering $24 billion. And $24 billion in the 1960s was a lot of money. So we were covering that. We were covering NASA to ask whether they were properly spending that $24 billion. So there were all sorts of intermixed threads in our approach to covering it. It was a great story, I’ll tell you that.

QUESTION: Did you have a sense of how large the media’s role was in controlling the message where the astronauts were concerned?

 

ROBERT STONE: No, I didn’t. I mean, I remembered what it was like when I was young. I knew that there was a huge treasure trove of footage out there that had not been seen, because most of the documentaries that had been done about the space race just used NASA footage. And, really mostly oriented towards the astronauts’ experience. And I thought there was this whole other story to be told, which is about us. To me, that’s the main event. The main event was it was like imagine kind of looking at the whole story through the opposite end of the telescope, you know, which is I see this as really a story about us. It’s a human story about what it was like to do this and what it took to do it. And the footage that was shot by the major networks and others had been largely overlooked. The contemporaneous reporting on it had been largely overlooked, in favor of the astronauts’ story, I think, largely because, you know, once the space race was over, once the race to the moon was over, the thing that we didn’t know about was the astronauts’ experience. As time had gone by, there are fewer and fewer people who actually remember, who experienced that. So that’s now an interesting story. It was like, what was it like to be alive when this was happening? And that can only really be told through the contemporaneous reporting.

NATURE “American Spring LIVE”

FRED KAUFMAN: Good afternoon. I’m Fred Kaufman, executive producer of NATURE at WNET. Today is all about spring, the greatest outdoor party in the natural world. It is the season when rising temperatures, longer days, and the greening and flowering of the landscape trigger dramatic transformations in plants and animals. Starting on Monday, April 29th, through Wednesday, May 1st, at 8 p.m. on PBS, “American Spring LIVE” will be a three night, multiplatform event showcasing natural events all across the country from, the Rockies to the Everglades, from inner city parks to the remote wilderness preserves. This is the first time NATURE has taken on a live program of this scale, partly funded by the National Science Foundation, and every episode will also stream live on NATURE’s Facebook page. Emmy winning news anchor Juju Chang will host from Yosemite National Park and will be joined by a diverse group of researchers and scientists to investigate how a wide range of plants and animals respond to the change of seasons. They will share insights into the natural world, reveal new technologies that make their discoveries possible, and encourage viewers to get outside and join in on the adventure of citizen science. The reel we’ve put together previews what you can expect to see during the live broadcasts. Let’s take a look.

 Now joining me on stage today is “American Spring LIVE” executive producer Al Berman, host Juju Chang, and Thor Hanson, our science expert for the series. Via satellite from all the way over in Maine where it’s very cold, we have producer Ann Prum and Nanne Kennedy, owner of Meadowcroft Farm, where she raises hundreds of sheep. Several of her ewes are pregnant. So in keeping with the live theme, we thought we’d check in on to see how the baby is doing with the help of veterinarian Rachel Gately. Ann, over to you.

ANN JOHNSON PRUM: Hello everybody. We are here in Washington, Maine, where it’s a lot chillier than it is in Pasadena. As Fred said, I’m here with Nanne and Rachel and her assistant, Alexandra, and we have a ewe here who is very pregnant, and Rachel is going to talk us through what she’s seeing in the sonogram.

RACHEL GATELY: So right here you have about an 85 day old lamb. Typically, they are in utero for about five months. And you can see this lamb is laying on its back, and you will see it move every once in a while. And you can actually see its heart beating right at the crest of its chest over closest to Nanne. And do you see the heart there, beating, right in the middle of the screen?

ALEXANDRA: Right there.

RACHEL GATELY: Yeah. You can actually see the chambers of the heart, and the ribs are actually there, and the head is up towards Nanne. And it looks like he wants to kick right now. There’s actually two lambs in here. We are only looking at one at the moment. This is a we are just going through the side of the ewe right now with a normal ultrasound just like any woman would have, and there’s no harm to her at all. You can see that heart beating. It’s very good for us to check in on them, make sure the lambs are live and growing normally. We typically do this twice during a pregnancy.

ANN JOHNSON PRUM: And how many lambs does this ewe have?

RACHEL GATELY: We are seeing two right now. It’s possible that she has a third. If they do have triplets, it’s usually very difficult to detect the third one unless everything is lining up perfectly.

A Question from The Hollywood Times:

QUESTION: That’s fascinating. Thank you for that. I had a question. Can you explain the mechanics of the second screen idea.

 FRED KAUFMAN: Yes.

 AL BERMAN: First, I just wanted to point out that the lamb one of those two lambs is going to be born exactly on the 29th of April at 8:00 Eastern.

(Laughter.)

So we are doing we have a very, very big social media, a second screen presence here. It starts weeks before the broadcast. The broadcast itself is going to be live streamed on Facebook. We also have Phil well, we have a social media expert who is going to be on location with us in Yosemite, who will be constantly working with and interacting on various social media platforms, and we also have and Fred will speak much more about this a very heavy science and citizen science push, which will drive our audience, as we like to say, turn viewers into doers and have them go online and share with us their observations of various wildlife and plant happenings.

QUESTION: With climate change and the seasons kind of being shifted, weather patterns have gotten really volatile. Things that usually happen in the spring aren’t happening in the spring now. What are you finding as far as the effect climate change is having on what you expect to be happening in America in the spring?

THOR HANSON: Sure. Well, climate change is really one of the issues that we want to address with this program. Just as you pointed out, things are changing, and springtime being such an energetic time for the natural world and a time when things need to line up just in the right way for pollinators to be active at the right moment that the plant is blooming, all of these sorts of what they call phenological events, things that have to do with timing, springtime is right in the middle of it. So exploring some of those disconnects is part of what the program will be doing in that you may have some species that are dependent upon the length of the day to trigger their spring activity. Well, the length of days is not changing, yet the temperature is changing, and things are getting warmer earlier. And so you end up with what the experts are calling “timing mismatches,” in that if you have a pollinator that comes out of hibernation based on temperature, that’s trying to pollinate a plant that blooms based on the length of the day, you end up with these potential mismatches in nature, and that is one of the things that we will certainly be exploring as the program goes forward.

There are some great shows coming up on PBS.  Check out their shows date and air times here: PBS