April PBS Blu-ray and DVD Slate Includes ‘Victoria,’ ‘Mrs. Wilson’

PBS Distribution will release a variety of programming on disc and for digital download in April, including season three of “Victoria.”

Due April 2:

  • Nature: Attenborough and the Sea Dragon, available digitally and on DVD, a profile of the prehistoric Ichthyosaur, a fish lizard.
  • Nova: Einstein’s Quantum Riddle, available digitally and on DVD, an examination of the implications of the theory of quantum entanglement.
  • Dictator’s Playbook, available digitally and on DVD, an examination of the historical, sociological and psychological foundations of 20th century dictatorships, and why they succeeded or failed. Six episodes include looks at Kim Il Sung, Saddam Hussein, Benito Mussolini, Manuel Noriega, Francisco Franco and Idi Amin.


Due April 9:

  • Masterpiece: Mrs. Wilson, available digitally and on DVD, starring Ruth Wilson as her real-life grandmother in a true story about spies, plot twists, love and betrayal, as a woman searches for her husband’s real identity.


Due April 16:

  • Victoria: Season Three, available digitally and on Blu-ray and DVD, with Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria.
  • American Masters: Joseph Pulitzer, available digitally and on DVD, an exploration about the newspaper magnate who is best known through the journalism award he endowed in his will.
  • American Experience: Sealab, available digitally and on DVD, a documentary about the U.S. Navy’s efforts to explore the ocean’s depths in the 1960s.
  • Nova: Kilauea — Hawaii on Fire, available digitally and on DVD, a look at the recent eruption of the Hawaiian volcano and what could cause a rise in volcanic activity.


Due April 23:

  • Nature: Wild Way of the Vikings, available digitally and on DVD, a documentary narrated by Ewan McGregor about the lifestyle and discoveries of the Vikings hundreds of years before Columbus.
  • Frontline: Predator on the Reservation, available digitally and on DVD, an investigation of the decades-long failure to stop Dr. Stanley Weber, a government pediatrician who moved from reservation to reservation abusing young boys
  • Charm City, available digitally and on DVD, a feature documentary about a group of police, citizens, community leaders and government officials who, with grit, fury and compassion, are grappling with the consequences of violence and trying to reclaim Baltimore’s future.
  • Margaret: The Rebel Princess, available digitally and on DVD, a documentary about Queen Elizabeth II’s rebellious younger sister, with rare footage and interviews with those who knew her best.
  • Boss: The Black Experience in Business, available digitally and on DVD, a documentary that traces the lives of African-American entrepreneurs over 150 years.


Due April 30:

  • Living Volcanoes, available digitally and on DVD, an examination of the people and wildlife that live alongside the world’s volcanoes, plus a daring expedition of scientists and adventurers to one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes, located in the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.
  • Decoding the Great Pyramid, available digitally and on DVD, a look at the history of the Great Pyramid of Giza, how it was built and how its construction shaped Egypt’s civilization.
  • Reconstruction: America After the Civil War, available digitally and on DVD, in which professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. presents the definitive history of one of the least understood chapters in American history — the transformative years following the American Civil War
  • Homo Spatius, available digitally and on DVD, a look at how efforts to conquer outer space might guide human evolution.
  • Charley Pride: I’m Just Me, available digitally and on DVD, a documentary narrated by Tanya Tucker about the life of Charley Pride, from Negro League baseball player to country music superstar.
  • Right to Fail, available digitally and on DVD, an investigation into a court-ordered effort to move hundreds of those with mental illness into independent living.

‘Ready Jet Go!: Chasing the Sun,’ ‘Wild Kratts: The Briny Blue Sea’ Coming to DVD April 9 From PBS

Four episodes of “Wild Kratts” and eight episodes of “Ready Jet Go!” are racing to DVD April 9 from PBS Distribution.

In Ready Jet Go!: Chasing the Sun, kids learn about the sun as Jet and friends discover that the sun is actually a star in the episode “Our Sun is a Star.” Then Jet and his friends turn their treehouse into their own observatory in “Treehouse Observatory.” They build their own telescope to observe the nighttime sky. In “Galileo, Galileo!” Mindy tells Jet she can see the sun move across the sky. Jet has to explain to her that the sun isn’t moving, it’s the earth moving around the sun. Other episodes on this DVD include: “Just the Right Distance From the Sun,” “Solar Power Rover,” “Mindy’s Bedtime,” “Sunspot’s Sunspot” and “How We Found Your Sun.”

In Wild Kratts: The Briny Blue Sea, kids have some underwater adventures with Chris and Martin Kratt. In the episode “Osprey,” Jimmy accidentally drops the keys to the Tortuga into the ocean. Chris, Martin and Aviva are on a race to develop osprey creature powers to find the keys before they disappear forever. Then in the episode “Sea Otter Swim,” the Wild Kratts take time out for a swim but Jimmy reveals that he’s not a strong swimmer. Martin and Chris take Jimmy to meet his own personal swimming tutor — a sea otter named Coach. Other episodes included on the DVD are “Puffin Rescue” and “Aye Aye.”

PBS Distribution Launches Lifestyle Content Streaming Service PBS Living

PBS Distribution has launched PBS Living, a new streaming service featuring public media lifestyle content across the food and cooking, home, culture, and travel genres.

The service is available by subscription from Prime Video Channels on Amazon for $2.99 per month after a seven-day free trial.

The channel offers subscribers a curated selection of hundreds of episodes from award-winning series with new content to be added each month. Content includes both classic and current series, such as Julia Childs’s “The French Chef,” “This Old House,” “Antiques Roadshow,” “No Passport Required,” “Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street,” “America’s Test Kitchen” and “Born to Explore.”

“Public television has a long history as a home for unique and compelling lifestyle programs,” said Andrea Downing, co-president of PBS Distribution, in a statement. “We are excited to offer viewers another way to explore their passions and find inspiration through these series, with the convenience of being able to watch anywhere, at any time.”

Select programs are also streaming in PBS Passport, a digital member benefit available through local stations.

“Contact,” “The Court” and “Inspector Falke” Among Six “Walter Presents” Foreign Series Streaming on PBS Masterpiece Prime Video in March

PBS Distribution in March will begin streaming six new series from the “Walter Present’s” library on the PBS Masterpiece Prime Video Channel –– “Contact,” “The Court,” “Dead Beautiful,” “Flight HS13,” “Framed” and “Inspector Falke.”

“Walter Presents,” which launched in January 2016 in the United Kingdom as a video-on-demand service and is a joint venture between Channel 4 and Global Series Network, partnered with PBS Distribution on Amazon Prime Video in October 2018. The PBS Masterpiece Prime Video Channel is available to Prime members for $5.99 a month after a seven-day free trial.

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Eight episodes of the French series “Contact” will be available March 4. The series follows Thomas Jouannet, who was sentenced to life after avenging his parent’s brutal murder and the kidnapping of his sister. He is freed after serving only 15 years when he makes a deal with the FBI to use his extraordinary ability — psychometry — to solve crimes. When he touches an object, he feels the “psychic footprint” of its owner, envisioning its owner’s memories, emotions and secrets. However, there is one stipulation — he cannot leave the United States. But, once he receives a mysterious package containing an object that shows his brother in trouble, Thomas heads for France. Having broken the arrangement, he now has the FBI on his tail while trying to save his brother’s life.

Also streaming beginning March 4 are six episodes of the Icelandic series “The Court.” The legal drama follows the professional and personal lives of three Reykjavik lawyers. Logi is one of the country’s most brilliant legal minds and the most troubled. He’s determined to uncover the truth about what really happened one night in his youth — an incident that left a man dead and Logi in prison for manslaughter. But his internal demons threaten to send him spiraling into alcoholism. Standing between Logi and self-destruction are his colleagues — two lawyers, Brynhildur and Hordur, whose own private lives are far from simple.

Streaming beginning March 11 are nine episodes of the French crime drama “Dead Beautiful,” It centers on the self-loathing police commissioner Martin — a compassionate investigator who is dedicated to solving some of the most shocking crimes against women. While trying to solve these crimes, Martin also juggles the three women in his life: his ex-wife, the police psychiatrist and his girlfriend, journalist Marion. Each episode pits Martin against a new killer.

Streaming beginning March 18 are 10 episodes of the Dutch thriller “Flight HS13,” which follows Liz and Simon, a seemingly happily married couple who have everything they could possibly want ‚ a lovely son, a beautiful home and successful careers. But their perfect life is over when Simon boards a plane — flight HS13 — to attend a conference in Barcelona.  A few hours later, Liz’s world collapses when she hears Simon’s plane has crashed. No one survived. Very quickly her grief turns to shock and disbelief when she finds out that Simon never actually checked in for the flight. His name was not on the passenger list.

Streaming beginning March 25 are 10 episodes from another Dutch series “Framed.” Communications consultant Michael Bellicher has just received a promotion at his software firm and a party is being held in his honor to announce it. When an ex-lover appears, however, he lapses back into his unfaithful ways and things begin to spiral out of control. His wife is sick of it and packs her bags. Things suddenly get even worse when that ex-lover suddenly turns up dead. His identity is stolen, and he is forced to become a fugitive when he is framed for the murder.  Though family and friends doubt his innocence, Bellicher eventually forms an alliance with his newly transgender sister and a computer hacker, Vince. Together, they set out to uncover what is really going on.

Also streaming beginning March 25 are seven episodes of the German series “Inspector Falke.” Thorsten Falke is a devoted police officer who has traded in a family and a social life in the name of justice. Having grown up in the throes of Hamburg’s grimy underbelly, he is now proud to take a stand against crime in his hometown. Falke and his partner, Katharina Lorenz, work to bring down the ruthless criminal gangs threatening Hamburg.

American Masters: Sammy Davis, Jr. — I’ve Gotta Be Me


Street Date 2/19/19;
$24.99 DVD;
Not rated.
Featuring Kim Novak, Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, Norman Lear, Jerry Lewis.

Finding a bigger Rat Pack fan than I during that assemblage’s roughly 1960-64 heyday was no easy assignment, so Sammy Davis Jr., always got a pass from me despite my general lack of enthusiasm for performers who feel they had to wear jewelry stores to the car wash or the proctologist. Of course, prodigious talent helped, and Davis kept surprising me — per, just as one example, my fairly late discovery of his astonishing early tap dancing mastery in the 1933 short subject Rufus Jones for President, which featured him at age 7. How in the world does anyone manage to steal a piece of film from Rufus co-star Ethel Waters when even Julie Harris couldn’t quite do it herself?

On the other hand — and this is way before Davis’s embrace (both figuratively and literally) of Richard Nixon — Davis was also the epitome of that forced “professional show business” ethos that the early cast members of “Saturday Night Live” would later have so much fun putting down. Jerry Lewis and Bobby Darin were culprits as well on this count, but Davis was the worst, telling audiences that he would sing his next tune to them “with their kind permission.” So as early as early junior high, my waggish buds and I would always riff on this, telling each other that we were about to hit the men’s room “with your kind permission” or that we fantasized about placing a palm up some classmate’s cheerleader outfit “with her kind permission.”

This is all coming off harsher than intended, especially since we now have a standout entry in PBS’s reliably socko “American Masters” series to make the case that its subject earned the right to indulge in the kind of stylistic excesses that defined him, including enough jewelry to provide Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly with breakfasts forever. A black man through and through whose racial bullying and much worse in the army proved the point just by itself, Davis was an undeniable civil rights symbol who gained co-equal stature to share the Vegas stage — and also several larkish movies — with Frank, Dino, Joey and (for a while, Peter Lawford). Only later did it sink in that Davis was not always but too often the butt of the joke in ways the others were never quite.

Neatly dividing its subject’s life into chapters that reflected the dimensions of his career (singer, dancer, social progressive, social regressive, etc.), Sam Pollard’s documentary hits the expected bases we remember from past print biographies, press coverage and, in some cases, scandal sheets of the day including Confidential. These would include his show biz apprenticeship under “Uncle” Will Mastin (who was actually his godfather); the army experiences; the loss of his left eye in a 1954 auto accident; and his secret romance with Columbia Pictures’ top printer of money (Kim Novak), which sparked Columbia chief Harry Cohn to put a contract out on Davis if he didn’t marry a black woman — make that any black woman — within two days, which happened. I remember being so shocked at age 10 by the last when my grandmother told me that I didn’t believe it for years. Later, white co-star Paula Wayne talks about what she herself had to endure from kissing Davis in the 1964 stage production of Golden Boy.

Davis idolized Sinatra, and some say wanted to be Sinatra, and when Davis lost the eye, his idol spent one-on-one time with him trying to teach him how to pour water from a pot or decanter into a glass. Sinatra honored Davis by allowing him into the Rat Pack (though it’s tough even imagining that bunch without him) — yet at this height of his career Davis still had to reside off the Vegas Strip and in a boarding house on the dusty side of town, as all black performers did. Not covered here is the episode in which Davis said something in an interview that riled Frank, who then jettisoned him from playing what ultimately became the Steve McQueen role (big break there) in 1959’s Never So Few. Very much mentioned is the how Davis’s post-election late 1960 marriage to white actress May Britt resulted in his being bounced from performing at the JFK Inaugural gala that Sinatra produced. These were the times, and Republicans (already ready to make trouble over the election outcome) would have made hay, especially given that interracial marriage was still illegal in several states.

A key point of the doc is how Davis was color blind in how he treated people, which tended to make him tone deaf when it came to all the societal upheavals in the ’60s. Nixon seemed to be genuinely intrigued by Davis as a person but also cynically thought the performer could be used to attract a voting demographic that mostly loathed him. So, here we have footage of Davis entertaining the troops in South Vietnam and performing “The Candy Man” at a White House invitational before a bunch of ancient Republicans, the way Bob Hope used to do. Superfly this was not, and though there’s ample footage here to prove that Davis could totally charm audiences of all political persuasions prepared not to like him, Nixon fairly well dropped Davis when he realized the star was going out of fashion. The key shot at the White House show is an overhead one of tuxed-up white guys with their sea of bald domes photographed from the back and listening to “The Candy Man.”

Still, give me that voice, which has more power than I’ve ever heard coming out of someone that physically diminutive (a lot of people must have been envious at how completely Davis always kept the weight off). He was also, from the beginning, such a dancer that on a TV clip from very near the end of his life, Gregory Hines is able to pull him out of his audience seat for a duet when just a perfunctory tap or two would serve the situation and make us grateful he didn’t die on stage. Instead, we get something pretty close to the Full Sammy with no apologies needed as time momentarily stands still.

To this point, Davis was on TV a lot in the final couple decades of his career, so a lot of good and representative footage exists both of him and his time-capsule wardrobes. This really gives the doc a boost, though the interviews are good, too — and especially the ones with singer/actress Wayne, who got on the record for director Sam Pollard before his death just last November. Gotta writer Laurence Maison has a background in show biz docs, while Pollard has a heavy resumé in socially conscious race docs, including a couple for Spike Lee — a simpatico mix in theory. Pollard also directed the very fine “American Masters” on John Wayne and John Ford from 2006, so you can’t say he isn’t working from a diversified portfolio.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Sammy Davis, Jr. — I’ve Gotta Be Me’ and ‘Beat the Devil’

‘American Masters’ Documentary ‘Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me’ Due on Digital and DVD Feb. 19 From PBS

The “American Masters” program Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me is coming out on DVD and digital Feb. 19 from PBS Distribution.

This is the first major film documentary to examine the performer’s vast career and his journey for identity through the shifting tides of civil rights and racial progress during 20th century America, according to PBS. Davis strove to achieve the American Dream in a time of racial prejudice and shifting political territory. He was a veteran of increasingly outdated show business traditions and worked tirelessly to stay relevant, even as he frequently found himself bracketed by the bigotry of white America and the distaste of black America. Davis was a public black figure who embraces Judaism, thereby yoking his identity to that of another persecuted minority. In Duke Ellington’s words, he was “beyond category.”

The documentary features interviews with Billy Crystal, Norman Lear, Jerry Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg and Kim Novak, with never-before-seen photographs from Davis’ vast personal collection and footage of his performances.

‘Frontline’ Series ‘Documenting Hate, ‘American Experience: The Swamp’ Due on Digital and DVD Feb. 12 From PBS

PBS Distribution is releasing two documentaries, Frontline: Documenting Hate and American Experience: The Swamp, on digital and DVD Feb. 12.

Frontline: Documenting Hate is a two-part investigation into today’s white supremacy groups in the United States. In the first part, “Charlottesville,” correspondent A.C. Thompson tracks down some of those at the center of the infamous and deadly rally in Charlottesville, Va., revealing that one participant in the violence was an active-duty Marine, and the other worked for a major defense contractor and held a U.S. government security clearance. This part also shows just how ill-prepared law enforcement was to handle an influx of white supremacists from across the country, some of whom had been part of a series of earlier violent confrontations in California and descended on Charlottesville specifically to fight. The second part, “New American Nazis,” presents a new investigation into white supremacist groups in America, in particular a neo-Nazi group, Atomwaffen Division, that has actively recruited inside the U.S. Military. This joint investigation documents the group’s terrorist objectives, examines how civilian and military authorities have responded, and shows how the group gained strength after the 2017 Charlottesville rally.

Also due on digital and DVD Feb. 12 is American Experience: The Swamp. Told through the eccentric lives of hucksters, politicians and activists, the documentary explores the Florida Everglades, which has some of natures’ most mysterious and unique ecosystems. The program is based, in part, on the book The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida and the Politics of Paradise by Michael Grunwald.

Tilda Swinton Narrates Doc ‘Letters From Baghdad’ Due on Digital and DVD Feb. 5 From PBS

Letters From Baghdad, the story of 19th century explorer Gertrude Bell narrated by Oscar winner Tilda Swinton, is coming out on DVD and digital Feb. 5 from PBS Distribution.

Bell was an Englishwoman who traveled to the Middle East and was often referred to as the female “Lawrence of Arabia,” whom she personally knew, T.E. Lawrence. An explorer, spy, archaeologist, and diplomat, she also rubbed elbows with other powerful men, including Winston Churchill.

The program follows Bell’s life from her time at Oxford University in 1886 to her death in Baghdad in 1926. Her role in the Middle East was ground-breaking for women, and one of her many achievements included drawing up the borders for a new country, Iraq. The documentary uses never before seen archival footage, photographs taken by Bell herself, and a script taken from Bell’s personal letters.

Season Two of Ann Curry Series ‘We’ll Meet Again’ Due on Digital and DVD Feb. 5 from PBS

The second season of “We’ll Meet Again,” hosted by Ann Curry, will be released Feb. 5 on DVD and digital from PBS Distribution.

We’ll Meet Again, Season Two features six more episodes of dramatic reunions between people who have been searching for a good Samaritan from their past. In “Saved in Vietnam,” we meet two veterans searching for their heroes from the war: a helicopter pilot who rescued one and a surgeon who saved a soldier’s leg from amputation. Other episodes in Season Two include “Alaskan Earthquake,” “Surviving the Holocaust,” “Korean War Brothers in Arms,” “Escape from Cuba” and “The Fight for Women’s Rights.”

PBS Sets Three ‘Nova’ DVDs for February

PBS Distribution will release three “Nova” documentaries on DVD and digital in February.

Due Feb. 5 is Nova: Thai Cave Rescue, following the rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach from the Tham Luang Cave in Thailand, where they had been trapped for 18 days. Thai Cave Rescue features interviews with key people that were involved in the search and rescue and explains how the team became trapped in the cave.

Also arriving Feb. 5 will be Nova: Last B-24, about the discovery of an American B-24 Liberator that crashed into the Adriatic Sea 74 years ago. Seven crew members had survived the crash and were rescued, but three were never found. When the wreckage was discovered by amateur divers, the Pentagon formed a specialized expedition team. Viewers join the Croatian Navy and some of the world’s leading underwater archaeologists as they investigate the wreckage and try to find remains of the lost crew members. Later the team of archaeologists joins a team of forensics experts as they work to identify the remains that are recovered from the wreck.

Coming Feb. 19 is Nova: Operation Bridge Rescue, which focuses on the Blenheim Covered Bridge in New York State. Built in 1855, it was the longest single span covered bridge in the world, but in 2011 the bridge was destroyed by Hurricane Irene. The program follows a team of elite bridge builders and engineers as they faithfully reproduce the intricate timber. Viewers then travel to China to witness traditional craftsmen restoring thousand-year-old covered bridges. Viewers discover how Chinese artisans are keeping traditional skills alive to ensure the bridges survival.