While the commercial networks are looking to the future with their new fall series, PBS is looking to the past: the 1960s, to be specific.
The centerpiece of public television's fall programming is a series of documentaries on the culture and politics of that decade. It's anchored by the highest-profile piece PBS has produced in some time: Martin Scorsese's "No Direction Home: Bob Dylan."
Surrounding the Dylan documentary are some other intriguing films, notably "Get Up, Stand Up: The Story of Pop and Protest" (Wednesday at 9 p.m. on MPT, 10 p.m. on WETA), which looks at protest music over the years, and "The Sixties: The Years That Shaped a Generation" (Thursday at 9 p.m. on MPT, 10 p.m. on WETA), a "Frontline"-style documentary that tries to bring some perspective to the turmoil of the times.
Also scheduled: "Best of the Beatles" (Wednesday at 8 p.m. on MPT, 9 p.m. on WETA), the sad story of Pete Best, the Beatles' original drummer.
Other PBS fall highlights:
"The O.J. Verdict"
Tuesday, Oct. 4, at 9 p.m.
PBS's excellent "Frontline" takes a 10th-anniversary look at the O.J. Simpson case, one of the most controversial in American judicial history. Producer Ofra Bikel, who has done work on other "Frontline" documentaries, looks at the high drama of
the trial, why it transfixed a nation and
the effect it had on race relations in this country.
Wednesdays, Oct. 19 and 26,
at 10 and 11 p.m., only on WETA
Noted documentary filmmaker David Grubin, whose work for PBS includes a recent profile of Robert F. Kennedy, explores the reason America has been the promised land for millions of immigrants. The four-hour film is divided according to the freedoms the immigrants were seeking: freedom from want, freedom to create, freedom of religion and freedom for women.
"Sherlock Holmes and the Case
of the Silk Stocking"
Sunday, Oct. 23, at 9 p.m.
A very different take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary detective, portrayed this time by Rupert Everett ("My Best Friend's Wedding"). The case at hand involves a serial killer preying on high-society debutantes, but the film is less a pure mystery yarn than it is a character study of a Holmes bored with life.
"A Cemetery Special"
Wednesday, Oct. 26, at 8 p.m.
Documentarian Rick Sebak looks at the American way of death and how it connects with other aspects of our culture.
"RX for Survival -- A Global Health Challenge"
Tuesday-Thursday, Nov. 1-3, at 9 p.m.
"RX" is a massive six-hour examination of the state of the world's health, done in cooperation with Time magazine, National Public Radio and Penguin Press with a load of money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Produced by the same folks who work on the "Nova" science series, it covers such topics as the rise of super bugs and efforts to bring clean water and nutrition to Third World nations. Brad Pitt narrates.
Monday-Tuesday, Nov. 14-15, at 9 p.m.
We're not talking about the NBC series here. Rather, it's a two-part, three-hour documentary from "American Experience" marking the 100th anniversary of Las Vegas and how it has gone from a remote way station to "Sin City" to America's most glitzy -- and fastest-growing -- metropolis.
"In Search of Myths & Heroes
With Michael Wood"
Wednesdays, Nov. 16 and 23, at 9 p.m.
The witty historian goes off in search of the real stories behind such legends as the Queen of Sheba, King Arthur and Shangri-La. Given his past work for PBS, this promises to be lavishly produced and entertaining.