After a period in which change rattled the organization, from an executive resignation at the top to a new moderator for one of its most visible Washington-based shows, PBS perhaps finds its greatest stability this fall in its programming.
The Public Broadcasting Service offers its familiar mix of documentaries and dramas under banners such as "Mobil Masterpiece Theatre," "Mystery!" and "American Experience," as well as "Nature" and "American Masters." The season will include a historical piece from PBS mainstay Ken Burns, a profile of primatologist Jane Goodall and a taste of the Broadway stage. And PBS's resident techie, Robert Cringely, will attempt to sort out the Y2K problem.
But the period leading up to PBS's 30th anniversary on Nov. 3 has been marked by change and controversy.
Last February, Ken Bode, 59, now dean of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, was ousted as anchor of "Washington Week in Review." After a period in which conflicting ideas were aired concerning the future shape of the program, Gwen Ifill was selected as the show's new host. She assumed the role on Oct. 1.
Then on Sept. 9, the day after PBS won 10 awards -- more than any other network -- at the 20th News and Documentary Emmy Awards, president and CEO Ervin S. Duggan resigned, or was ushered out, after more than five years at the PBS helm. Duggan officially leaves on Oct. 31.
PBS began its 30th season Sept. 12 with filmmaker Jennifer Fox's cinma vrit documentary "An American Love Story," following the interracial marriage of New Yorkers Bill Sims and Karen Wilson.
"Mobil Masterpiece Theatre" last week opened its 29th season with "A Rather English Marriage," which repeats Sunday at 2 on WETA. This week, the long-running showcase debuts "Aristocrats," a three-part adaptation of Stella Tillyard's fact-based chronicle of the Lennox sisters, played by Serena Gordon, Geraldine Somerville, Anne-Marie Duff and Jodhi May.
Wednesday at 8, "American Photography: A Century of Images" traces the role of photography during the 20th century as recorder of public events, family historian, tool to influence public opinion and vehicle of artistic expression.
Having launched its 20th season with the two-part "Second Sight," the esteemed "Mystery!" continues this week with a two-part P.D. James story, "Living on Risk."
On Oct. 20, PBS offers the Pepper Mill Playhouse production of "Crazy for You," the 1992 musical that premiered at Washington's National Theater and, after retooling, went on to Broadway and Tony Award accolades.
On Oct. 25-27, Harvard University's Henry Louis Gates Jr. explains his view of what westerners have called the Dark Continent in "Wonders of the African World." And on Oct. 26 at 8, self-styled techie-pundit Robert Cringely looks at the (computer) chips that may fall New Year's Day in "Y2K: The Winter of Our Disconnect."
On Oct. 27, there's a one-hour profile of English primatologist Jane Goodall called "Reason for Hope." It's filmed at Gombe Stream Reserve in Tanzania, where she has spent 40 years, as well as in England, San Francisco and Paris. The program looks not only at Goodall's life and her concern for the environment, including her new Roots & Shoots groups encouraging environmental activism among young people, but also at the spiritual beliefs she has detailed in her recent book of the same title.
"Nature" begins its 18th season on Oct. 31 with a two-parter about Antarctica's weather (including the savage katabatic wind), wildlife (penguins, seals, whales, krill, snow petrels and algae), million-ton icebergs and the icecap itself. Television's longest-running weekly natural history series also will survey the history of the horse and take a look at sled dogs and Alaska's 1,200-mile Iditarod race.
November includes several significant documentaries. On Nov. 1, "American Masters" offers a 90-minute special about clashes between director Alfred Hitchcock and producer David O. Selznick as they fought over the filming of Daphne DuMaurier's Gothic romance "Rebecca." Gene Hackman narrates.
There is a new documentary on the horizon from Ken Burns, as well as one from his brother Ric.
Ken Burns's two-part "Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony" airs Nov. 7-8, profiling two formidable women who challenged the social, cultural and legal inequalities of their times.
Ric Burns's "New York: A Documentary Film," airing Nov. 14-18 as part of the "American Experience" series, is a six-part story of the city from 1624, when it was a Dutch trading post, to the present. David Ogden Stiers narrates.
The first of four programs about the minuscule world of microbes, "Intimate Strangers: Unseen Life on Earth," airs Nov. 9. And on Nov. 10, science writer Timothy Harris will trace mankind's search for extraterrestrial life in a two-hour special, "Life Beyond Earth."
Works of art and nature become the stars of "Treasures of the World" (Nov. 18), offering the stories behind priceless artifacts such as the Faberg imperial eggs, the Hope diamond, the Buddhist temple Borobudur in Java, the Taj Mahal in India and paintings including Pablo Picasso's "Guernica" and Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa."
Later in November, Gregory Peck narrates "American Prophet: The Story of Joseph Smith," a profile of the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which has more than 10 million members in more than 160 countries.
And there's a two-hour profile of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, "Jackie: Behind the Myth," on Nov. 29. The film includes the former first lady's poetry and journal entries, as well as photos, newsreels, home movies and reflections from those who knew her, including former Kennedy press secretary Pierre Salinger, violinist Isaac Stern, architect I.M. Pei and diplomat and adviser John Kenneth Galbraith and his wife, Kitty.
December brings holiday programs and pledge-period specials including one by Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli; a New York Philharmonic concert featuring violinist Itzak Perlman; the Metropolitan Opera's production of "Le Nozze di Figaro"; "Willa: An American Snow White," winner of a 1998 Andrew Carnegie Medal; and "Burn the Floor," featuring 22 young couples doing a collage of 10 standard and Latin dance styles including the flamenco, Lindy hop, jitterbug and salsa.
PBS plans to close out the year with the "Millennium Day Broadcast," a global spectacular involving 45 international broadcast partners. The coverage starts Friday, Dec. 31, and continues for 24 hours through Saturday, Jan. 1, 2000.