By Sidney Lumet Launches New Season of American Masters

In BY SIDNEY LUMET, the director ponders the moral message that permeated his body of work. Photo courtesy Augusta Films.

In BY SIDNEY LUMET, the director ponders the moral message that permeated his body of work. Photo courtesy Augusta Films.

“I’m not directing the moral message, I’m directing that piece and those people, says esteemed film and TV director Sidney Lumet in American Masters: By Sidney Lumet. “If I do it well, the moral message will come through.”

Lumet died in 2011; but, in 2008, he sat for five days of interviews with producer Thane Rosenbaum and the late filmmaker Daniel Anker for American Masters. Those interviews frame filmmaker Nancy Buirski’s latest film, American Masters: By Sidney Lumet. Following its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and brief theatrical release in Fall 2016, the film makes its national broadcast debut on PBS tonight, Tuesday, January 3, 2017, 8:00 – 10:00 p.m., ET, launching Season 31 of American Masters. Check local listings for air times and repeat broadcasts in your region and its availability on digital video On Demand and DVD/Blu-ray from FilmRise.

Sidney Lumet directing Charlotte Rampling and Paul Newman in THE VERDICT in 1982. Photo courtesy ©Everett Collection.

Sidney Lumet directing Charlotte Rampling and Paul Newman in THE VERDICT in 1982. Photo courtesy ©Everett Collection.

If you’re a fan of 12 Angry Men, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, Long Day’s Journey into Night, The PawnbrokerRunning on Empty, The Verdict and Murder on the Orient Express, to name just a few of the 44 feature films that Sidney Lumet adapted and directed over a period of 50 years, I urge you not to miss American Masters: By Sidney Lumet

Primarily known for his serious body of work as a film director (his feature films received an incredible 46 Academy Award® nominations and six wins, including an Honorary Oscar in 2007), Sidney Lumet shares some fascinating anecdotes about his surprising success as a working child actor in New York’s Yiddish Theater, as well as on Broadway and in film, the latter in small roles.  

He credits Henry Fonda and luck with his trouble-free segue from TV to film directing, but it’s clear that Lumet’s longevity in show business is due to the lessons learned from his dad. Noted Yiddish stage actor Baruch Lumet instilled in his young son a reverence for his theater milieu, classic drama and the virtues of hard work and a regular paycheck.

During the opening and closing minutes of By Sidney Lumet, the director ruminates on the life and career-altering ramifications of a shocking incident he witnessed and chose to ignore in Calcutta as a young man.  He also revisits the father-son dynamic that enabled his family of poor working actors to survive on Manhattan’s Lower East Side during the Great Depression, as well as his personal challenges during the McCarthy era of the 1950s.

Did the moral lessons garnered from those experiences consciously or unconsciously color the projects he ultimately chose to direct?  He seemed conflicted by this question in 2008 when he sat for the interviews for American Masters, and yet the answer is clearly “yes.”

Sidney Lumet (front) and Al Pacino (far right) filming DOG DAY AFTERNOON in 1975. Photo courtesy ©Everett Collection.

Sidney Lumet (front) and Al Pacino (far right) filming DOG DAY AFTERNOON in 1975. Photo courtesy ©Everett Collection.

“When one speaks of morality in movies, certainly one thinks of Lumet,” recalls Peabody and Emmy Award-winning producer/director Nancy Buirski. “So many of his films deal with corruption and fairness, individuals going up against an unjust system. Inherent in this sense of morality is the way we dissemble, the way we lie to each other and to ourselves.” 

Ms. Buirski generously peppers her respectful homage to Sidney Lumet with clips from key feature films, as well as his work on film as a child actor and as a prolific director of early live TV dramas for such shows as “You Are There” and “The Alcoa Hour.” 

The clips not only remind us of some of the most outstanding film and TV dramas of the last half of the 20th century but some of the greatest film and stage actors to grace the screen as well. Hepburn, Brando, Fonda, Steiger, Newman, Pacino, Richardson, Magnani, Bacall, Hiller, Redgrave, Robards …the list of brilliant actors featured in large and small roles in Lumet’s projects is endless. Lumet seemed to draw these giants to his side like a magnet.

Sidney Lumet (left) and Marlon Brando kick back on the set of THE FUGITIVE KIND circa 1959. Photo courtesy ©Everett Collection.

Sidney Lumet (left) and Marlon Brando kick back on the set of THE FUGITIVE KIND circa 1959. Photo courtesy ©Everett Collection.

American Masters: By Sidney Lumet refreshingly steers clear of bombastic anecdotes from Hollywood cronies and details of Lumet’s personal life, loves and losses as an adult. Ms. Buirski allows Lumet and the film and vintage TV clips and photos to speak for themselves. His themes consistently explore the moral dilemmas facing responsible individuals in their communities, families and workplace and are still relevant and timely. One wonders how Lumet would have addressed the current American political climate and mindset were he alive today.

If you are drawn to serious filmmakers and their work, American Masters: By Sidney Lumet will enrich your appreciation of Lumet’s compelling films and encourage you to reexamine the moral questions they raise. The documentary–followed by Nancy Buirski’s brief, appended interview with actor Treat Williams, the star of Sidney Lumet’s Prince of the City–makes its national broadcast debut on PBS tonight, Tuesday, January 3, 2017, 8:00 – 10:00 p.m., ET.  Check local listings for air times and repeat broadcasts in your region and its availability on digital video On Demand and DVD/Blu-ray from FilmRise. –Judith Trojan

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Lucy Mangles Her Movie Debut in I Love Lucy Christmas Special

Lucy Ricardo faces a heady costume malfunction in the newly colorized episode, LUCY GETS IN PICTURES. Photo ©2013 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Lucy Ricardo faces a heady costume malfunction in the newly colorized “I Love Lucy” episode, LUCY GETS IN PICTURES. Photo ©2013 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Ho Ho Ho and Hollywood make for a merry holiday cocktail on CBS tonight, thanks to the genius of Lucille Ball and her alter ego, Lucy Ricardo. While I’d be hard-pressed to single out one favorite I Love Lucy episode of all time, Lucy Goes to Hollywood is by far my favorite Lucy “arc.” Happily, a classic episode from the Lucy Goes to Hollywood arc is on tap tonight, Friday, December 2, 2016 (8:00-9:00 p.m., ET/PT), when CBS airs their annual I Love Lucy Christmas Special.

As in previous years, the I Love Lucy Christmas Special piggybacks as holiday fare two entertaining, colorized episodes from the beloved 1950s I Love Lucy CBS-TV series. This year, a newly colorized episode, Lucy Gets in Pictures, debuts in tandem with the previously colorized and aired I Love Lucy Christmas Episode.

First broadcast on CBS on February 21, 1955, Lucy Gets in Pictures shows us just how far star-struck Lucy will go to get her foot in the door and on camera in Hollywood, USA. While Ricky’s career is on fire (he’s been called out to Hollywood to star in his first feature film), Lucy wants to make good on a fib posted to her NYC friends back home that she, too, will be “in pictures.”

Lucy is green with envy when pals Fred and Ethel Mertz (William Frawley and Vivian Vance) are scouted in their hotel lobby for a two-week gig in a film and favorite bellhop Bobby nabs a choice bit part as well. Luckless Lucy can’t seem to catch the eye of a scout and turns even greener scarfing down ice cream sundaes at Schwab’s soda fountain counter, the site of Lana Turner’s “discovery.”

Ricky’s attempt to line up a part for his depressed wife sets in motion one of Lucy’s most famous classic comedy bits as a doomed showgirl upended not by an assassin’s bullet as scripted, but by her unwieldy costume… its endless gauzy train and impossibly heavy head-gear. Lucy’s riotous trek down a steep staircase in this costume is indeed a “trip” worth multiple viewings. It’s unforgettable physical schtick, performed by a comedy genius whose way with snappy tête-à-tête is also masterfully showcased here as Lucy matches wits with her frustrated director.

Colorization works especially well to bring Lucy and Ricky’s Hollywood milieu to life in Lucy Gets in Pictures. The Ricardos’ hotel room is bathed in sunny L.A. light and the frothy costumes are more than props destined to trip and snare poor Lucy… they’re gorgeous, sparkling pink confections.  

There's a faux Santa around every corner in the classic, now colorized 1956 I LOVE LUCY CHRISTMAS EPISODE. Photo: ©2013 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

There’s a faux Santa around every corner in the classic, now colorized 1956 I LOVE LUCY CHRISTMAS EPISODE. Photo ©2013 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Originally thought to be “lost,” the December 1956 Christmas Episode is a nostalgic Christmas eve visit to the Ricardos’ Manhattan apartment where Lucy and Ricky trim their tree and prep gifts to surprise Little Ricky, their Santa-obsessed five-year-old.

Without missing a beat, Ricky and Lucy concoct a hilarious timeline for Santa to deflect their son’s questions and insistence on remaining awake to greet him fireside.

Fred and Ethel Mertz join the fun as Lucy and Ricky wistfully recall Lucy’s unexpected pregnancy announcement at Ricky’s nightclub and Ricky, Fred and Ethel’s subsequent foiled effort, months later, to get Lucy to the delivery room on time. Welcome colorized flashbacks are intercut from these classic episodes.  The latter, still hilarious after all these years, continues to serve as the classic benchmark for all subsequent TV sit-com “birthing” episodes that followed.

Finally, in a musical interlude, Lucy’s attempt to sing “Jingle Bells” reminds Ricky and the Mertzes of the time tone-deaf Lucy crashed their barbershop quartet with disastrous results.  A flashback of their sabotaged performance is included.

Say what you will about colorization (and you can read my thoughts on this in a previous I Love Lucy Christmas Special post), I definitely support the process and team who produce the “Lucy” colorization project. They continue to impart a fresh, timeless look to the I Love Lucy episodes by deftly maintaining muted, natural tones and without overplaying their hand and resorting to garishness.  You can read my additional reviews of past I Love Lucy Christmas Specials at  http://www.judithtrojan.com/2014/12/07  and  http://www.judithtrojan.com/2015/12/23

Who's that lurking over Lucy Ricardo's shoulder? Watch the I LOVE LUCY CHRISTMAS SPECIAL on CBS and find out! Photo courtesy CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

Who’s that lurking over Lucy Ricardo’s shoulder? Watch the I LOVE LUCY CHRISTMAS SPECIAL on CBS and find out! Photo courtesy CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

This year’s annual I Love Lucy Christmas Special debuts on CBS tonight, Friday, December 2, 2016, 8:00-9:00 p.m., ET/PT. (Check On Demand and DVD for further availability.)  I can’t think of a better antidote to the mean-spirited months we’ve recently weathered as an electorate. An hour spent with Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel recalls a time when “class act” and “comedy genius” actually meant something worth cherishing.  I hope that this season’s I Love Lucy Christmas Special will help you welcome the holidays with renewed hope and joy.–Judith Trojan

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Marathon Powerfully Revisits the Patriots Day Bombing on HBO

Two-year-old Wesley Brillant of Natick, Mass.

Two-year-old Wesley Brillant of Natick, Mass., kneels in front of a memorial to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings in April 2013. Photo: REUTERS/Jim Bourg. Courtesy HBO.

What does the word “hero” mean to you? If you feel that the only “heroes” still standing in America today are the cartoon characters featured in action films, you’re not alone. Abraham Lincoln concluded his First Inaugural Address in March 1861 with the following prescient words of encouragement to a divided Nation:

“We are not enemies, but friends. … Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Photo: ©Tom Green/ ZUMAPRESS.com. Courtesy HBO.

Photo: ©Tom Green/ ZUMAPRESS.com. Courtesy HBO.

Lincoln’s perceptive assessment of the American spirit is as timely today as it was in 1861. For more concrete evidence that we, as Americans, all have the potential to be driven by “the better angels of our nature,” I urge you not to miss Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing.

After winning accolades on the film festival circuit, this powerful, feature-length documentary makes its cable debut on HBO tonight, Monday, November 21, 2016, 8:00 – 10:00 p.m. ET/PT. (Check listings for additional HBO playdates in the weeks ahead and availability on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand and affiliate portals.)

Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing recounts in gripping, edge-of-your-seat fashion the horrific events that unfolded during the 117th running of the Boston Marathon on Founders Day, April 15, 2013. Primary focus is placed on several severely injured survivors–a mother and daughter, two brothers, and a newlywed couple–who began that day as healthy, eager bystanders and ended it on the blood-soaked sidewalk, their bodies shattered by shrapnel from homemade terrorists’ bombs. That these passionate Americans lived to tell their stories is miraculous in itself, but how they managed to survive and rebuild their lives will touch your heart and inspire grateful reflection as you celebrate Thanksgiving later this week with family and friends.

Love truly conquers all. The extraordinary resilience of newlyweds Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky is chronicled in MARATHON: THE PATRIOTS DAY BOMBING. Photo: Allana Taranto. Courtesy of HBO.

Love truly conquers all. The extraordinary resilience of newlyweds Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky is chronicled in MARATHON: THE PATRIOTS DAY BOMBING. Photo: Allana Taranto. Courtesy HBO.

Filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg frame the personal stories of these resilient survivors and their families with a stirring tapestry of news and found footage, home movies, photos and audio that documents the carnage and the “better angels” who played a pivotal healing role that day and in the days and years that followed. We see firsthand what it’s like to grieve for lost limbs and healthy lives; and we witness the fortitude it takes to survive the collateral damage from shrapnel wounds–constant pain, disfigurement, repeated unsuccessful surgeries and unrelenting post traumatic stress. We revisit the manhunt impressively orchestrated by the FBI and local authorities that led to the suspects’ dramatic apprehension. And we experience the conflicted emotional toll exacted on the victims and the journalists forced to cover the surviving terrorist’s trial.

The film is dedicated to the four deceased victims–Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi and Sean Collier–of this homegrown terrorist attack. Their families, along with the survivors and their families, once strangers, are now bound together forever by their shared life and death struggles, as well as with the journalists and photographers who documented their progress in The Boston Globe, and the selfless civilians and military and medical personnel whose life-saving heroics on that fateful day in April 2013 are simply without peer.

JP Norden, a Boston Marathon bombing survivor, visits his doctors and amputees who served in the U.S. military at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He and his brother, Paul, were both badly injured but survived the Boston Marathon bombing. Photo: Yoon S. Byun/The Boston Globe. Photo courtesy HBO.

JP Norden, a Boston Marathon bombing survivor, visits his doctors and amputees who served in the U.S. military at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He and his brother, Paul, were badly injured, but both survived. Photo: Yoon S. Byun/The Boston Globe. Photo courtesy HBO.

Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing will not only move you to tears but will restore your pride in America and the heroes who continue to live among us. The film explores what it truly means to embrace life, grieve loss, to heal and most especially, what it means to be courageous and to love someone unconditionally, whether it be a spouse or partner, mother, son, daughter, brother, caregiver, or even a pet.

Writer/directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, in association with The Boston Globe, remind us that America is and always has been “great,” simply because heroic, resilient Americans to the left and right of us are still out there insuring the democratic fabric of our nation and making a positive difference in the lives of others.  The subjects of this extraordinary film are all heroes in my book.

18-year-old Sydney Corcoran, a victim of the Boston Marathon bombing, preps for her Lowell (Mass.) Senior Prom. Her mom, Celeste, who lost both her legs in the bombing, changes the bandages on her daughter's injured foot. Photo: John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe. Courtesy HBO.

18-year-old Sydney Corcoran, a victim of the Boston Marathon bombing, preps for her Lowell (Mass.) Senior Prom. Her mom, Celeste, who lost both her legs in the bombing, changes the bandages on her daughter’s injured foot. Photo: John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe. Courtesy HBO.

Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing makes its cable debut on HBO tonight, Monday, November 21, 2016, 8:00 – 10:00 p.m. ET/PT. (Check listings for additional HBO playdates in the weeks ahead and availability on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand and affiliate portals.) I predict this film, which I initially saw at the Hamptons (NY) International Film Festival this fall, will sweep the documentary Emmy® and Academy Awards® next year. Don’t miss it!–Judith Trojan

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Vote for All That Is Good, True and Decent

ELIE WIESEL (1928-2016). Photo: Bela Szandelszky/AP.

Elie Wiesel (1928-2016). Photo: Bela Szandelszky/AP.

“Whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation, take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim,” said human rights activist, author and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel upon accepting his Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.  I made sure to remember his selfless words and example when I voted today.

I was reminded of Elie Wiesel yesterday as I watched the film, Denial, currently in theatrical release nationwide. The film also underscored for me why the outcome of our Presidential election today is so important.  Based on the acclaimed book, Denial: Holocaust History on Trial, Denial recounts American professor and author Deborah E. Lipstadt’s legal battle for historical truth against debunked British historian David Irving, who accused her of libel when she declared him a Holocaust denier.

The film, adapted by screenwriter David Hare and directed by Mick Jackson, is a fascinating recreation of a complex case that played out in the British legal system in the late 1990s. The case was ignited by an individual whose incendiary and deliberate misinterpretation in print of historical fact was a ruse to promote bigotry and yet, at its core, a sad effort to gain the respect he coveted in the publishing world and halls of academia where he was a pariah.denial_2016_film

The film’s parallels with this Presidential election were not lost on me. According to Denial’s screenwriter David Hare:  “We are entering, in politics especially, a post-factual era in which it is apparently permissible for public figures to assert things without evidence, and then to justify their assertions by adding, ‘Well, that’s my opinion’ – as though that in itself was some kind of justification. It isn’t. And such charlatans need to learn it isn’t.”

I can’t think of anyone I’ve admired more in my lifetime than Elie Wiesel (1928-2016). He was and continues to be a hero of mine in a world where heroes are few and far between. The world first came to know him through his memoir, Night (1959), a masterpiece that recounted his horrific experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald, where he lost both of his parents and sister. He not only continued to “talk the talk,” but “walk the walk” until his death this summer at age 87.

Miraculously, I did get to speak to Mr. Wiesel on the phone when I invited him to be a presenter at our annual Christopher Awards gala. I was determined to encourage his active participation as we honored winning authors and filmmakers during my tenure as Director of the Christopher Awards. His life absolutely defined the Christopher mantra: “Better to light one candle, than to curse the darkness.”

Although he was unable to accept my invitation that year due to scheduling conflicts, he graciously promised that he would try for the following year’s gala. That was not to be for reasons that have nothing to do with Mr. Wiesel; but his example has instinctively fired my social conscience and my support and respect for filmmakers and other artists and writers who shine a light on injustice and social issues.

Mr. Wiesel’s resilience in the face of unspeakable horrors and his dedication to promoting peace, human rights and human decency throughout the world are a reminder to me to take nothing true and decent for granted and to strengthen my resolve to speak out against lies and injustice.

JFK sloganWe, as proud Americans, have the freedom and opportunity today to make a crucial decision that will not only impact our own lives, but the lives of our kids, grandkids, our democracy and planet as we know it. I implore you to VOTE today, as if your life depended upon it. Thank you!–Judith Trojan

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Nature Spotlights The Story of Cats on PBS

A Rusty Spotted cat doing what comes naturally, as seen in NATURE: THE STORY OF CATS on PBS. Photo: Ruth Campbell/©Plimsoll Productions.

A Rusty Spotted cat doing what comes naturally, as seen in NATURE: THE STORY OF CATS on PBS. Photo: Ruth Campbell/©Plimsoll Productions.

If you’ve ever shared your home or heart with a cat, you probably agree that cats are inscrutable.  But, let’s face it, you love them anyway… and you never ever give up hope that they’ll love you back. Whether you harbor one or more felines in your home or you admire them from afar–at a safe distance through the magic of those adorable YouTube videos–I urge you to watch The Story of Cats.  This informative, two-part PBS series will definitely elevate your understanding and respect for Fluffy and Felix and for their continually evolving extended family.

With 37 species currently in play, cats are “the greatest predators since dinosaurs.” Despite facing extreme feeding challenges as “solitary” predators, they began their journey to your doorstep 11 million years ago in the rain forests of Southeast Asia. The series traces their extraordinary evolution through the ages as they adapted physiologically to planetary cataclysms, extreme temperature changes, shifting altitudes and exploding land masses.

A baby Cheetah in the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, Namibia. Photo: Anwar Mamon/Plimsoll Productions.

A baby Cheetah in the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, Namibia. Photo: Anwar Mamon/©Plimsoll Productions.

I guarantee that even if you’ve never domesticated a cat before but are intrigued by cats in the wild, you will gain insights into the behavior and physiology of various extraordinary feline species around the world from The Story of Cats. Their feet and claws, eyes and ears, fur and tails all have an important role to play in their daily survival as solo predators; and those features impact your domesticated house cat as well.

Animal Behaviorist Kevin Richardson discusses his remarkable bonding rituals with a pride of lions in the Kevin Richardson Sanctuary in South Africa. As seen in NATURE: THE STORY OF CATS. Photo: Anwar Mamon/Plimsoll Productions.

Animal Behaviorist Kevin Richardson discusses his remarkable bonding rituals with a pride of lions in the Kevin Richardson Sanctuary in South Africa. As seen in NATURE: THE STORY OF CATS. Photo: Anwar Mamon/©Plimsoll Productions.

The Story of Cats sets the stage with an introduction to the ancient Clouded Leopards, currently diminished in numbers and protected in Southeast Asia. They carry the genetic blueprint shared by all cats living today.

Of all the many fascinating feline backstories explored in the series,  I was especially taken with the films’ coverage of the origins of their elevated role in ancient Egypt; the surprisingly atypical social lives of African lions; the proliferation of Mountain lions in the hills above Los Angeles; and, with a nod to Fido, the parallel evolution of the felines’ nemesis… our canine companions.

Based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the Tony Award-winning musical, Cats, is now experiencing a revival on Broadway. CAT_HUL_Prog_70wx210.inddIf that’s as close as you thought you might want to get to cats, I recommend that you also take a look at Nature’s impressive new series, The Story of Cats. Perhaps it will encourage you to give cat lovers a pass or even adopt your very own Fluffy or Felix.

Directed by Anwar MamonThe Story of Cats is a production of Plimsoll Productions and THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET.  It premieres on the PBS series, Nature, in two, hour-long time slots.  Episode One, Asia to Africa, debuts tonight, Wednesday, November 2, 2016, 8:00 – 9:00 p.m. ET.  Episode Two, Into the Americas, debuts next week on Wednesday, November 9, 2016, 8:00 – 9:00 p.m. ET. (Check local listings for air times and repeat broadcasts in your region. ) The series is also available on DVD and Blu-Ray from http://www.pbs.org –Judith Trojan

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Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You Debuts on PBS

Writer/producer Norman Lear's youthful spirit, inquisitive mind and groundbreaking sitcoms are the stuff of a true AMERICAN MASTER. Photo courtesy Norman Lear.

Writer/producer Norman Lear’s youthful spirit, inquisitive mind and groundbreaking sitcoms are the stuff of a true AMERICAN MASTER. Photo courtesy Norman Lear.

“My family is the greatest joy in my life,” says 93-year-old writer/producer Norman Lear at the close of Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You. This engaging documentary profile of the trailblazing writer/producer was filmed for American Masters by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. 

Following its well-received run on the festival circuit and in select theaters this summer, American Masters–Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You makes its national broadcast debut on PBS tonight, October 25, 2016, 9:00-10:30 p.m. ET.  (Check local listings for premiere and repeat airtimes in your region.)

In Norman Lear’s universe, the term “family” covers a lot of ground.  The families he’s been fortunate to shape and share his life with, especially on the job, are the stuff of legend.

Norman Lear, circa the 1920s. Photo courtesy Act III Productions.

Norman Lear, circa the 1920s. Photo courtesy Act III Productions.

The writer/producer/show runner of such groundbreaking hit TV sitcoms as All in the FamilyMaudeThe Jeffersons; Good Times and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman had a rough start.  While his father may have espoused Archie Bunker’s narrow-minded world view, he did not, however, share Archie’s hard-working, law-abiding, family centered lifestyle. Norman’s dad relocated to a jail cell when his son was nine, and the boy was subsequently sent off to live with various uncles and finally landed with his grandparents. He later asked his mom, “How come I have no memory of you?”

Admittedly “a striver,” he persevered and managed to make a giant leap forward from working three jobs on the Coney Island Boardwalk to Emerson College, which he departed in patriotic fervor to enlist after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The filmmakers have fashioned a clever collage of Lear’s back story by blending passages from his memoir, vintage family photos and archival clips from his early work as a scribe on seminal TV variety shows. A slapstick bit from”The Colgate Comedy Hour,” starring Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin (1950) actually features Lear on-camera with Lewis.

While the specifics of his rise to the top as the writer, producer and show runner responsible for six of the top 10 shows on TV during the 1970s are best garnered from Lear’s memoir, Even This I Get to Experience (Penguin, 2014), there are extensive clips from those hit shows and insightful anecdotes to relish in the film.

From left: Jean Stapleton, Carroll O'Connor, Norman Lear, Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers on the set of ALL IN THE FAMILY. Photo: CBS Photo Archive.

From left: Jean Stapleton, Carroll O’Connor, Norman Lear, Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers on the set of ALL IN THE FAMILY. Photo: CBS Photo Archive.

It was an era when footage of Vietnam casualties and anti-war protests blanketed the evening news at dinner time. Welcome antidotes to the bloody carnage and campus sit-ins were Lear’s fearless TV families who served up hot button social issues with humor and a twist of reality that upended romanticized post-war portraits of American family life. In the process, Lear raised the hackles of TV censors and the religious right and landed on President Richard M. Nixon’s enemies list.

Clips from controversial episodes of All in the Family, Maude and The Jeffersons are highlights, as well as some hilarious shtick with Lear’s pals and contemporaries, comedy legends Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks. Reflections on Lear’s important contributions to the national discourse come from Rob (“Meathead”) Reiner, now a noted film director; George Clooney; Bill Moyers; Russell Simmons; and Jon Stewart, as well as Lear’s former partners and colleagues, including, via archival footage, actresses Bea (Maude) Arthur and Esther (Good Times) Rolle.

Especially enlightening are Lear’s candid anecdotes about his actors.  Lear has much to say about Carroll O’Connor (his casting as Archie Bunker and O’Connor’s ongoing challenges, as a liberal Irish Catholic, with the role and scripts). Lear and actor John Amos also recall the problematic success of Good Times and the fine line they walked to stem the stereotyping of the sitcom’s break-out young star.

Ever the patriot and social activist, Lear went on to buy a copy of the Declaration of Independence, tour with it on the lecture circuit, and launch a liberal advocacy organization, People for the American Way (PFAW).

Norman Lear loves his family, his signature hat and his morning cup of coffee. Photo: Andrew Renneisen/The New York Times.

Norman Lear loves his family, his signature hat and his morning cup of coffee. Photo: Andrew Renneisen/The New York Times.

With his strong physical constitution and inquisitive mind still on full throttle, Norman Lear credits his tight-knit family and “childlike view of the world,” with his healthy, productive longevity.

I encourage you to share some laughs and a tear or two with this marvelous nonagenarian and national treasure whose transformative contributions to our television landscape are as relevant today as they were in the 1970s, especially in light of the racism, bigotry, bullying and sexism that have darkened our current U.S. Presidential election.

A production of LokiFilms and THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC’S American Masters for WNET, Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You makes its national broadcast debut on PBS tonight, October 25, 2016, 9:00 – 10:30 p.m ET/PT.  (Check local listings for premiere and repeat airtimes in your region.)  PBS Distribution will also release the film on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD on October 25, 2016, with bonus features.)–Judith Trojan

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Weiner The Man, The Myth, The Documentary Makes Its Showtime Debut

Photo courtesy of SHOWTIME.

Photo courtesy of SHOWTIME.

“I did a dumb thing. But I did a lot of other things too,” says former New York Congressman and New York City Mayoral candidate, Anthony Weiner.

That’s quite an understatement, given the actual “dumb thing” that imploded Anthony Weiner’s promising political career and marriage. Lots of us do dumb things, but few cause as much collateral damage and media “noise” as Weiner’s obsession with sexting.  If you’ve managed to weather the current contentious Presidential campaign and its unsavory revelations, you’re probably well-equipped to watch Weiner, the feature-length length documentary by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg making its world television premiere on SHOWTIME tonight, October 22, 2016, 9:00 -10:30 p.m. ET/PT.  (Check listings for repeat broadcasts in the weeks ahead and availability On Demand.)

Anthony Weiner hit the ground running in New York City politics. In 1992, he became the youngest member of the New York City Council and went on to win seven terms in the U.S. Congress (D-NY). He served through 2011, when he departed his post in disgrace. The film opens with clips of his scrappy, take-no-prisoners posturing in Washington, as he fought for health care for 911 first responders, and is peppered with clips of him schmoozing his remarkably forgiving middle-class constituents on the streets of New York.

Anthony Weiner took to the streets of NYC to rebuild his political career. As seen in the documentary WEINER. Photo courtesy of SHOWTIME.

Anthony Weiner took to the streets of NYC to rebuild his political career. As seen in the documentary, WEINER. Photo courtesy of SHOWTIME.

Caught sexting during his Congressional stint, Weiner resigned and the media pounced. He managed to defuse the mistrust that followed his lies about the incident and somehow deflected concern about the character flaws that led him to unzip on the Internet.  He patched up his marriage to his accomplished young wife, Huma Abedin, a trusted advisor of Hillary Clinton, and forged ahead with a desperate attempt to become the Democratic candidate for Mayor of New York City in 2013.

The film brilliantly chronicles Weiner’s downhill race to the finish line. New Yorkers are a tough but forgiving breed.  In contrast to the tabloid media, late-night comics and political pundits who never loosened their grip on Weiner or his staff and family, Weiner’s constituents initially seemed anxious to move beyond his first sexting misstep and concentrate on the issues they knew he would champion.

But after building a staff of young, dedicated campaign professionals and volunteers and rebuilding his marriage, Weiner was outed again and forced to admit to additional sexting escapades. To make matters worse, a young, sexting paramour soon came out of the shadows to share his spotlight during the final days of his campaign and claim her own 15 minutes of media fame.

Anthony Weiner runs on empty by election day. From the documentary, WEINER. Photo courtesy of SHOWTIME.

Anthony Weiner runs on empty by election day. From the documentary, WEINER. Photo courtesy of SHOWTIME.

By the end of the film, we watch a badly beaten and desperate Anthony Weiner as he taps every last humiliating ploy to salvage his losing campaign.  His once dedicated staff and energized, trusting wife are bathed in a cloud of gloom…all distancing themselves from this wreck of a man.  The only bright spot in his life, his toddler son Jordan Zain, becomes Weiner’s last and most sickening victim. Without wife Huma at his side at the polls, he steps into the voting booth on election day with his son in his arms…the boy screaming in fear at the barrage of hovering media vultures and cameras flashing in his face.

With their inclusion of Weiner’s intimate interactions with his staff and his family, filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg provide an important if painful look at the toll Weiner’s indiscretions take on his young campaign advisors and especially his wife. Huma’s initial attempts to make the marriage work and her husband’s political dreams come true should be a revelation for those who condemn, across the board, the decisions of political spouses who stand by their men.

Weiner is a remarkable if difficult film to watch.  It brings us up close and personal to a clueless, arrogant individual who, by diverting attention from the tragic flaws in his character (he never really addresses them in the film), subverts the very qualities we treasure most in a viable candidate for higher office…honesty and trustworthiness, strong family and employer values, selfless resilience, a fighting spirit and respect for the rights of others.

Weiner makes its world television premiere on SHOWTIME tonight, October 22, 2016, 9:00 -10:30 p.m. ET/PT.  (Check listings for repeat broadcasts in the weeks ahead and availability On Demand.)  You’ll be riveted; but by film’s end, you’ll be in the mood for a swig or two of Pepto Bismol…or something even stronger.–Judith Trojan

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