‘American Experience: The Riot Report’ Premieres May 21 on PBS, PBS.org and PBS App

“American Experience: The Riot Report,” about the 1960s commission appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to explore the cause of riots in cities across the country, will debut May 21 on PBS (9 p.m. ET), PBS.org and the PBS app.

The program will stream for free simultaneously with broadcast through June 20 on all station-branded PBS platforms, including PBS.org and the PBS App.

When Black neighborhoods in scores of cities erupted in violence during the summer of 1967, President Lyndon Johnson appointed the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders — informally known as the Kerner Commission — to answer three questions: What happened? Why did it happen? And what could be done to prevent it from happening again? The bipartisan commission’s final report, issued in March of 1968, would offer a shockingly unvarnished assessment of American race relations — a verdict so politically explosive that Johnson not only refused to acknowledge it publicly, but even to thank the commissioners for their service. “The Riot Report” explores this pivotal moment in the nation’s history and the fraught social dynamics that simultaneously spurred the commission’s investigation and doomed its findings to political oblivion.

The program was directed by Michelle Ferrari, co-written by Ferrari and New Yorker journalist Jelani Cobb, and executive produced by Cameo George.

“The simple fact is this: We are in the worst crisis we have known since the Civil War,” said a television journalist in September 1967. Several weeks before, a police raid on an after-hours club in a predominantly Black section of Detroit had sparked racial unrest unlike anything Americans had ever seen: a furious uprising that paralyzed the city, left 43 people dead and burned hundreds of buildings to the ground. Nor was it an isolated incident. The disturbance in Detroit had been preceded that summer by violence in Newark, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Rochester, Toledo, and scores of other cities, mainly in the North and Midwest.

Few contemporary observers expected the bipartisan Kerner Commission (named after its chair, Governor Otto Kerner Jr. of Illinois) to deliver meaningful answers. Only two members of the commission were Black and both, like the nine white members, had been chosen by Johnson on the strength of their allegiance to him. Adding to the skepticism was the widespread perception that such commissions were typically convened as a gesture without commitment to any particular course. Johnson, for his part, hoped the commissioners would find evidence of outside agitation — ideally, by Communist-aligned advocates of Black Power — and would draw conclusions that both acknowledged his significant Civil Rights achievements and shored up support for his ambitious social agenda.

But the Kerner Commission defied expectations. In addition to holding pro forma hearings with experts, the commissioners toured many of the afflicted cities, an experience that moved Tex Thornton, arguably the commission’s most conservative member, “about ninety degrees to the left,” he said. Those visits were followed by thorough field investigations conducted in 23 cities by teams of social scientists. In the end, although the commissioners split over many issues, there was unanimous consensus for the report’s central conclusion: the cause of urban disorder was white racism — and the spark that set it off was almost invariably police brutality.

Hurried into print, the 708-page report instantly became a New York Times best-seller, with more than 700,000 copies sold in two weeks. CBS and NBC aired documentaries inspired by the book, and millions watched as Marlon Brando read excerpts aloud on the late-night talk show circuit. The urgency of the report’s message was further underscored mere weeks after its publication when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and the nation’s inner cities erupted once more. Yet, according to a poll later that same month, a majority of white Americans rejected the commission’s conclusions and its recommendations. By the time Richard Nixon’s law-and-order campaign won him the presidency that fall, the Kerner Commission had been swept from national consciousness. In diagnosing a crisis that Americans then elected to ignore, however, the so-called “Riot Report” was destined to endure.

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“The Kerner Commission’s unanimous and blistering report put a spotlight on what was at the heart of structural racism and inequality in America,” “American Experience” executive producer Cameo George said in a statement. “The findings of this dedicated and bipartisan group remain relevant in today’s America, and we hope our film adds some much-needed context to the ongoing national conversation.”

‘Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution’ Debuting Early June 1 on PBS.org, PBS App Before Broadcast

The three-part series “Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution” will debut early on PBS.org and the PBS App June 1 before its June 18 broadcast on PBS.

The BBC Studios docuseries captures the story of disco — its rise, its fall, and its legacy — from the basement bars of ’70s New York City to the peak of the global charts, told by the original musicians, promoters, and innovators as well as modern-day musical icons.

Disco embodied the height of 1970s glamour: a dance floor culture born in New York City that went on to take over the world. But its success also obscured its wider significance. Inextricably bound up with the major liberation movements of the 1970s, disco speaks to some of the biggest issues of today: LGBTQ+ identity and female empowerment. 

“Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution” also underscores disco’s survival. Co-opted by the commercial mainstream, the genre dominated and flooded the market — the airwaves and record shops — leading to a subsequent hate-fueled backlash. As a result, the music and its ethos went back underground, where it evolved into an electronic dance sound that laid the foundations for contemporary dance culture.

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Episodes include:

Episode 1: “Rock the Boat” (June 18)

The opening episode of the series looks at the roots of disco — how it emerged from a basic desire for inclusion, visibility, and freedom among persecuted Black, gay, and minority ethnic communities of New York City. It tells the remarkable story of how a global phenomenon began in the loft apartments and basement bars of New York City, where a new generation of DJs and musicians, such as David Mancuso, Nicky Siano, Francis Grasso, and Earl Young (The Trammps), pioneered a distinct sound and a new way of spinning records. 

Episode 2: “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” (June 25)

Set against the backdrop of Black power and sexual liberation, the second episode takes viewers to the high watermark of disco in the mid ’70s. As disco conquered the mainstream, it turned Black women and gay men into superstars and icons. It was a world where the drag queen Sylvester was king, and Black women found a powerful new voice — one that fused Black Power with a call for sexual freedom. It was the birth of the “disco diva” from Gloria Gaynor and Candi Staton to Donna Summer and Thelma Houston. However, mainstream success by The Bee Gees’ soundtrack album “Saturday Night Fever,” The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You,” Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy,” and Studio 54 took disco further and further from its roots of inclusivity and freedom, as straight, white men started to embrace and repackage the sound.

Episode 3: “Stayin’ Alive” (July 2)

The final episode documents the wellspring of resentment from white, straight, male-dominated, rock-loving middle Americans, as they targeted disco for its hedonism, femininity, and queerness. A vocal “Disco Sucks” movement began to gain momentum, culminating in the “Disco Demolition Derby” at Comiskey Park Stadium in Chicago, where organizers destroyed thousands of disco records in front of a baying audience of baseball fans. In addition, the hedonism and sexual liberation embodied by disco found itself stopped in its tracks by the AIDS crisis. Pushed out of the mainstream, the pioneers of disco retreated and regrouped. Cult disco DJ Frankie Knuckles left New York for Chicago, where he remixed disco breaks with R&B to produce a new genre of dance music — house. He and other disco pioneers kept disco alive as it evolved into world electronic dance music.

“Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution” features some of disco’s originators, musicians, promoters, and innovators, as well as modern-day musical icons, such as: Vince Aletti, Steve Ashkinazy, Bill Bernstein, Joyce Bogart Trabulus, Jocelyn Brown, Carmen D’Alessio, David Depino, Lisa Farrington, Nona Hendryx, Thelma Houston, Marshall Jefferson, Francois Kevorkian, Tina Magennis, Ana Matronic, George McCrae, David Morales, Tom Moulton, Colleen Murphy, John Parikhal, Kim Petras, Mark Riley, Allen Roskoff, Alex Rosner, Michelle Saunders, Jake Shears, Nicky Siano, Candi Staton, Jeanie Tracy, Barry Walters, Dexter Wansel, Anita Ward, Jessie Ware, Sharon White, Victor Willis, Earl Young, Jamie Principle, Robert Williams, Ron Trent, DJ Hollywood, Honey Dijon, and MNEK.

PBS Distribution Launches PBS Retro FAST Channel on Roku

PBS Distribution has announced a new FAST Channel, PBS Retro, which has launched on Roku.

PBS Retro is a dedicated channel where audiences can relive classic PBS shows from the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s such as “Kratts Creatures,” “Thomas and Friends,” “Zoboomafoo,” “Reading Rainbow” and “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

“We recognize how important PBS programming has been for generations and PBS Retro creates a space where viewers can revisit cherished shows from their youth but also share these timeless series with a new audience,” said Andrea Downing, president of PBS Distribution.

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PBS Retro joins other FAST Channels available from PBS Distribution, including:

  • PBS Food, featuring some of the best chefs, including Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Marcus Samuelsson, Ming Tsai, Vivian Howard, and many more culinary stars. (available on Freevee, Plex and Roku)
  • PBS | Antiques Roadshow, featuring specialists from leading auction houses and independent dealers who offer free appraisals of antiques, art, and collectibles. (available on Xumo, Plex, Roku, Freevee, Pluto, Google TV and LG Channels)
  • Julia Child, featuring Julia Child’s groundbreaking cooking series — including “The French Chef,” “Baking with Julia” and “Cooking with Master Chefs.” (available on Pluto)
  • Antiques Road Trip, featuring classic car tours through Great Britain with two antiques experts as they search the local stores for treasures, competing with each other to see who can turn a small budget into a small fortune at auction. (available on Pluto, Freevee, Plex and Tubi)
  • PBS Nature, featuring the infinite beauty and wonder of the natural world. (available on Freevee, Plex, Xumo, LG Channels, Local Now, Google TV and Pluto)

‘Photographic Justice: The Corky Lee Story’ to Debut on PBS May 13 for Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month

The documentary Photographic Justice: The Corky Lee Story will debut on PBS May 13 and on PBS apps after a theatrical run for Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.

For 50 years, Chinese American photographer Corky Lee documented the celebrations, struggles, and daily lives of Asian American Pacific Islanders. Determined to push mainstream media to include AAPI culture in the visual record of American history, Lee produced an astonishing archive of nearly a million photographs. His work takes on new urgency with the alarming rise in anti-Asian attacks during the Covid pandemic. Jennifer Takaki’s intimate portrait reveals the triumphs and tragedies of the man behind the lens.

Corky Lee was born in 1947 in New York to Chinese immigrants who owned two laundries in Queens. He majored in history at Queens College and became a community organizer in Manhattan’s Chinatown in the 1970s. Over the next five decades he photographed countless protests and cultural events in the Asian American Pacific Islander community. Lee’s photographs documented the birth and growth of the Asian American movement for social justice and he became known as “The Undisputed, Unofficial, Asian American Photographer Laureate.” His death in 2021 at the age of 73 due to Covid was mourned in the press worldwide.

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Filmmaker Jennifer Takaki  is a fourth-generation Japanese American from Colorado. In New York, she produced and directed Photographic Justice: The Corky Lee Story, which premiered at DOC NYC and was supported by the Ford Foundation and The Center for Asian American Media (CAAM). She was awarded the prestigious Better Angels Lavine Fellowship in 2023.

Documentary ‘Nova: A.I. Revolution’ Debuts on PBS March 27

The “Nova” program “A.I. Revolution” will debut on PBS, PBS.org and the PBS app March 27.

The documentary asks the question: Can we harness the power of artificial intelligence to solve the world’s most challenging problems without creating an uncontrollable force that ultimately destroys us? ChatGPT and other new A.I. tools can now answer complex questions, write essays, and generate realistic-looking images in a matter of seconds. They can even pass a lawyer’s bar exam. Should we celebrate? Or worry? Or both? Correspondent Miles O’Brien investigates how researchers are trying to transform the world using A.I., hunting for big solutions in fields from medicine to climate change.

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“There’s been a lot of media coverage of people’s fears of A.I. and the idea that it could one day turn against us,” Nova co-executive producer Julia Cort said in a statement. “At the same time, many scientists we’ve talked to are excited and optimistic, convinced that A.I. will help us build a substantially better, healthier future. We hope this film will provide audiences with a deeper understanding of the technology, so they can make informed decisions about the best path forward.”

“The conversation around A.I. in our world is changing rapidly every day,” O’Brien said in a statement. “‘A.I. Revolution’ aims to show people what this new technology is capable of, as well as some of the concerns that emerge when you are creating something that has the power to perceive things far beyond the scope of our own understanding of the world.”

The program dives into how scientists have modeled A.I. to mimic the human brain in so-called neural networks on powerful supercomputers. The film highlights the development of AlphaGo, software created to play the Chinese board game, Go — a notoriously complex strategy game. Tasked with beating reigning champion Lee Sedol, A.I. researcher Mustafa Suleyman details the strategies that the team at DeepMind employed to coach AlphaGo to victory — taking inspiration from the way human brains work. Researchers trained AlphaGo with a large data set of expert Go games so that it could learn how the game is played. Then, the software played against itself millions of times. Not only did AlphaGo beat Sedol, but the software made a completely novel move — so creative that some initially believed it to be a mistake.

The power of A.I. to recognize complex patterns and make predictions has already grown beyond the capacity of the human brain in several key areas, opening up major opportunities in many fields, including medicine. Using pattern recognition software similar to AlphaGo along with deep learning models, theoretical chemist Petrina Kamya and her team at biotech startup Insilico Medicine are developing new drugs by predicting protein structures significantly faster than human researchers were previously able to. Additionally, the film follows Miles — whose left arm was amputated after an accident a decade ago — as he visits a bioengineering company called CoApt. The company has developed a machine learning algorithm that can interpret faint electromyographic (EMG) signals from amputees to allow them more control of myoelectric limbs. CEO Blair Lock attached Miles to a virtual prosthetic depicted on a screen, in order to begin the process of training the AI model which will be in his new arm.

Beyond drug discovery and prosthetics, the film explores several other ways that A.I. is transforming science. Computer scientist Regina Barzilay at Massachusetts General Hospital has trained a neural network to detect breast cancer from mammograms years before they are detectable by human eyes with over 85% accuracy. A.I. is also being used to help detect lung cancer. Lives are even being saved from natural disasters, as A.I. is now being deployed in California to detect wildfires early before they rage out of control. 

In addition to these hopeful stories, “A.I. Revolution” also presents some of the threats that A.I. poses to our society. Miles speaks with Hany Farid, a professor of computer science at U.C. Berkeley, on the rise of A.I.-generated deep fake videos featuring false impersonations of any individual. To demonstrate, Hany creates two deep fake videos of Miles — one showing an exact replica of Miles speaking words that the real Miles never spoke, and another placing Miles’s face on “The Terminator” from the blockbuster science-fiction franchise. Hany shares his concern that A.I. generated photos and videos will lead people to distrust the world around them.

While deep fakes are already starting to fool people, some fear that A.I. could cause far greater harm. Yoshua Bengio, a pioneer of A.I., deep learning, and neural networks, says that he has now shifted his research to focus solely on the threat A.I. poses to humankind. He, along with many other experts, signed a public statement saying that mitigating the risk of extinction from A.I. should be a global priority.

“This is the perfect time for Nova to lift the veil on A.I. and provide a clear picture of what this technology is, how it works, what it can — and cannot — do, and explore the key potential risks and benefits,” Nova co-executive producer Chris Schmidt said in a statement. “‘A.I. Revolution’ is the newest installment in a story Nova has been following over the last fifty years, at a moment where researchers are at a crossroads — confronting thorny issues around regulation and ethics.” 

Experts in the program include Inflection AI CEO Mustafa Suleyman, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) director Daniela Rus, MIT CSAIL computer science professor Manolis Kellis, CoApt CEO Blair Lock, MIT CSAIL professor for AI and health Regina Barzilay, MIT CSAIL researcher Alexander Amini, head of AI Platforms and president of Insilico Medicine Canada Petrina Kamya, U.C. Berkeley professor of computer science Hany Farid, Cal Fire’s staff chief for fire intelligence Phillip SeLegueg, and A.I.pioneer, founder, and scientific director of the Mila-Quebec AI Institute Yoshua Bengio.

PBS to Bow ‘Poisoned Ground: The Tragedy at Love Canal’ April 22

The “American Experience” documentary Poisoned Ground: The Tragedy at Love Canal premieres April 22 on PBS (9–11 p.m. ET), PBS.org and the PBS App.

It tells the story of the ordinary women who fought against overwhelming odds for the health and safety of their families. In the late 1970s, residents of Love Canal, a working-class neighborhood in Niagara Falls, N.Y., discovered that their homes, schools and playgrounds were built on top of a former chemical waste dump, which was now leaking toxic substances and wreaking havoc on their health. Through interviews with many of the extraordinary housewives turned activists, the film shows how they effectively challenged those in power, forced America to reckon with the human cost of unregulated industry, and created a grassroots movement that galvanized the landmark Superfund Bill.

The story of Love Canal began in the late 19th century, when William T. Love, hoping to harness the power of Niagara Falls, began to dig, but later abandoned, an enormous canal. Decades later, in the late 1940s, local company Hooker Chemical decided that Love’s Canal was the perfect site for a waste dump. For nearly a decade, Hooker dumped roughly 22,000 tons of dangerous chemical waste into the defunct waterway, a common disposal practice and one largely unregulated by the local government. 
 
During the post-war baby boom, young families seeking job opportunities in the chemical industry flocked to the area, creating a demand for land for new homes and schools. Hooker Chemical sold its waste dump land to the Board of Education for $1, with a clause exempting them from all future liability. Over the next few decades, a suburban community blossomed around the Love Canal site, with an elementary school and hundreds of homes built on top of the former canal.
 
By the late 1970s, the persistent smell of chemicals filled the air, and residents noticed sludge seeping into basements, corroded sump pumps, and oily backyard puddles. Children playing in the schoolyard reported chemical burns and rocks that would catch fire when skipped on the water. Most alarming, residents noted troubling health maladies ranging from skin rashes and seizures to miscarriages and birth defects. 
 
After air and soil tests revealed the presence of dozens of chemicals, panic spread as federal and state agencies scrambled for solutions. The newly-minted Environmental Protection Agency had never dealt with a catastrophe of this scale, and President Jimmy Carter declared a federal state of emergency — the first ever for a man-made disaster. Residents closest to the dumpsite were evacuated, but those farther removed were stuck, with renters unable to afford to leave and homeowners unable to sell their homes. 
 
Those left behind were also suffering terrible health effects from the chemicals and banded together. Led by a 27-year-old homemaker named Lois Gibbs, the women advocated for government-funded relocation and medical testing. By the summer of 1978, Love Canal became a full-blown media sensation. 
 
The Love Canal mothers educated themselves on chemical contamination and how to conduct health investigations. Their investigation, which found clusters of illness along old streambeds that intersected the canal, pushed health officials to recognize that the chemicals may have spread further than previously thought.
 
Finally, politicians began taking note of the risk that unregulated industrial practices posed to communities nationwide. Momentum built in Congress for legislation that would force companies dealing in toxic waste to help shoulder the burden of remediating impacted sites.

In May 1980, after two years of fighting, the Love Canal saga reached a breaking point when the results of an EPA pilot study indicating widespread chromosome damage were released to the community. Lois Gibbs and the Love Canal mothers held two EPA representatives hostage for several hours, a media spectacle that forced a response from Washington. Days later, President Carter declared a second federal emergency, which made the relocation of 700 remaining families possible. Months later, the Superfund Bill, which gained bipartisan support in Congress with the help of Love Canal, was finally passed into law. Love Canal was the first Superfund site identified for cleanup. 

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“Beyond saving themselves and their families, the Love Canal mothers forced America to reckon with how to balance the needs of the environment and industry,” filmmaker Jamila Ephron said in a statement. “Sadly, the larger story of the Love Canal neighborhood is still unfolding, and communities marginalized by class or race often bear the brunt of toxic waste contamination.”

Doc ‘Changing Planet: Coral Special’ Due on PBS, PBS Streaming April 24

In the third year of the seven-year “Changing Planet” project, conservationist Dr. M. Sanjayan travels to the Maldives and the Florida Keys for an in-depth look at coral reefs — a habitat under urgent threat from climate change — and the innovative techniques that could save them in Changing Planet: Coral Special, premiering April 24 on PBS, PBS.org and the PBS App.  

Featuring underwater cinematography, the program explores how scientists from across disciplines are collaborating on projects that offer glimmers of hope for the future of coral reefs.

Globally, coral reefs are at a crisis point, according to these scientists; warming seas have caused corals to bleach and die at an alarming rate, and 500 million people worldwide rely on reefs for food and to protect coastlines from storms and rising sea levels. Without action, these scientists predict that nearly all reefs could die off in the next few decades. 

In Changing Planet: Coral Special, Sanjayan visits Laamu Atoll in the Maldives to take part in a first-time collaboration that could be the key to restoring reefs. Professor Peter Harrison from Southern Cross University in Australia has devised a fertility treatment to help corals reproduce more successfully: “coral IVF.” Corals spawn on just a few nights a year, releasing billions of eggs and sperm into the ocean. The resulting larvae settle on a reef and grow to become baby coral. But in the wild, spawn is at the mercy of currents and predators; only one in a million may survive to adulthood. Harrison’s technique involves collecting spawn and maximizing fertilization, then allowing the larvae to develop in the safety of a net before releasing them onto areas of the reef that need restoration, significantly increasing their chance of survival.

Harrison is also working with a scientist who hopes to enhance this process further. Professor Steve Simpson from Bristol University in the United Kingdom discovered that coral larvae move towards the sound of a healthy reef — and it is fish vocalizations, in particular, which trigger them to sink to the bottom, settle and grow. The scientists’ audacious plan is to combine Harrison’s fertility technique with Simpson’s fish recordings to lure them to set up home on a damaged reef. This method has never been tried before, but if it works, it could be a global game changer for reef restoration.

In the United States, Florida has the third largest barrier reef in the world, but it has lost an alarming 98% of its coral. Dr. Erinn Muller at Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida oversees a high-tech warehouse where thousands of coral fragments are carefully nurtured, a last-ditch attempt to prevent them from going extinct. As part of a $100 million reef restoration project, her team is breeding millions of coral to be planted back out on the reef, selecting ones that can best withstand warming oceans. 

At the University of Miami, Professor Andrew Baker is creating a hybrid reef — a concrete structure seeded with coral larvae that will grow into a vibrant coral layer. These ready-made reefs could soon provide a home for wildlife and protect coastlines everywhere from extreme weather.

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“The problems that coral reefs face can seem insurmountable, but around the globe, the scientific community is working together and working fast to come up with novel and surprising techniques to give coral a lifeline,” Sanjayan said in a statement. “These projects give me hope.”

Historical Docudrama ‘Julius Caesar: The Making of a Dictator’ Debuts April 2 on PBS

“Julius Caesar: The Making of a Dictator” — a new three-part BBC-produced historical docudrama that explores how the nearly five-centuries-old Roman democracy was overthrown in just 16 years — debuts on three consecutive Tuesdays April 2-16 (9 p.m.-10 p.m. ET) on PBS, PBS.org and the PBS App.   

The story of a brazen power grab that saw Julius Caesar consolidate the vast Roman Republic in his own hands, the series is told through the eyes of an expert cast of British and American historians, scholars, and political operatives (including a former head of MI5). Illustrated with dramatic moments and packed with contemporary resonances, the docuseries follows complex power dynamics playing out for enormous stakes.

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Episode 1: “High Priest” (April 2)

The first episode traces Caesar’s ambitious rise as he seeks to become Consul, the highest political position in Rome. He forms dangerous alliances and bends the rules of the Republic, courting the popular vote, exploiting division, and using bribery and intimidation to get his own way. But his unconventional approach to politics and disregard for established customs sets him at odds with the conservative elite within the Senate. And one man — Cato — is determined to bring him down.

Episode 2: “Veni Vidi Vici” (April 9)

Caesar has brokered an uneasy alliance with the two other most powerful men in the Republic, Pompey and Crassus, and the trio dominate the political system. Caesar leaves Rome to take the governorship of Gaul — modern-day France — to conquer its people and win greater power and prestige. But events beyond his control threaten to unravel his plans and leave him isolated. Backed into a corner, he makes a decision that will change the course of the Republic — and Western history — forever.

Episode 3: “Ides of March” (April 16)

As Caesar takes control of Rome and consolidates his grip over the Republic, he awards himself ever-greater powers. Appointed dictator for one year to restore peace, he soon extends this to 10 years and then becomes “Dictator for Life.” His ambition turned to tyranny, Caesar has become untouchable, and Rome is now essentially a dictatorship. A handful of senators, including some of his closest allies, plot to end his rule in the only way they can: by taking his life. But will that be enough to save the Republic?

‘Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution’ Debuts on PBS June 18

The three-part series “Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution” will debut June 18 on PBS, PBS.org, and the PBS App.

The BBC Studios docuseries captures the story of disco — its rise, its fall, and its legacy — from the basement bars of ’70s New York City to the peak of the global charts, told by the original musicians, promoters, and innovators as well as modern-day musical icons.

Disco embodied the height of 1970s glamour: a dance floor culture born in New York City that went on to take over the world. But its success also obscured its wider significance. Inextricably bound up with the major liberation movements of the 1970s, disco speaks to some of the biggest issues of today: LGBTQ+ identity and female empowerment. 

“Charting disco from its inception and global domination to the violent attempts to end the genre, ‘Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution’ reclaims its roots,” Sylvia Bugg, chief programming executive and GM of general audience programming at PBS, said in a statement. “Before commercialization, discothèques belonged to the marginalized and the dispossessed, who tapped into the beat-driven music and the disco scene in a battle for community, identity, and inclusivity.”

“There’s no doubt that disco had an enormous impact—not just on the musical landscape at the time of its emergence and far beyond, but as a social and cultural force for change,” Jonathan Rothery, head of popular music TV/commissioning editor, factual, at the BBC, said in a statement. “This documentary series from BBC Studios, which the BBC has supported together with PBS, will highlight many new or untold stories of the genre.”

“Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution” also underscores disco’s survival. Co-opted by the commercial mainstream, the genre dominated and flooded the market — the airwaves and record shops — leading to a subsequent hate-fueled backlash. As a result, the music and its ethos went back underground, where it evolved into an electronic dance sound that laid the foundations for contemporary dance culture.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Episodes include:

Episode 1: “Rock the Boat” (June 18)

The opening episode of the series looks at the roots of disco — how it emerged from a basic desire for inclusion, visibility, and freedom among persecuted Black, gay, and minority ethnic communities of New York City. It tells the remarkable story of how a global phenomenon began in the loft apartments and basement bars of New York City, where a new generation of DJs and musicians, such as David Mancuso, Nicky Siano, Francis Grasso, and Earl Young (The Trammps), pioneered a distinct sound and a new way of spinning records. 

Episode 2: “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” (June 25)

Set against the backdrop of Black power and sexual liberation, the second episode takes viewers to the high watermark of disco in the mid ’70s. As disco conquered the mainstream, it turned Black women and gay men into superstars and icons. It was a world where the drag queen Sylvester was king, and Black women found a powerful new voice — one that fused Black Power with a call for sexual freedom. It was the birth of the “disco diva” from Gloria Gaynor and Candi Staton to Donna Summer and Thelma Houston. However, mainstream success by The Bee Gees’ soundtrack album “Saturday Night Fever,” The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You,” Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy,” and Studio 54 took disco further and further from its roots of inclusivity and freedom, as straight, white men started to embrace and repackage the sound.

Episode 3: “Stayin’ Alive” (July 2)

The final episode documents the wellspring of resentment from white, straight, male-dominated, rock-loving middle Americans, as they targeted disco for its hedonism, femininity, and queerness. A vocal “Disco Sucks” movement began to gain momentum, culminating in the “Disco Demolition Derby” at Comiskey Park Stadium in Chicago, where organizers destroyed thousands of disco records in front of a baying audience of baseball fans. In addition, the hedonism and sexual liberation embodied by disco found itself stopped in its tracks by the AIDS crisis. Pushed out of the mainstream, the pioneers of disco retreated and regrouped. Cult disco DJ Frankie Knuckles left New York for Chicago, where he remixed disco breaks with R&B to produce a new genre of dance music — house. He and other disco pioneers kept disco alive as it evolved into world electronic dance music.

“Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution” features some of disco’s originators, musicians, promoters, and innovators, as well as modern-day musical icons, such as: Vince Aletti, Steve Ashkinazy, Bill Bernstein, Joyce Bogart Trabulus, Jocelyn Brown, Carmen D’Alessio, David Depino, Lisa Farrington, Nona Hendryx, Thelma Houston, Marshall Jefferson, Francois Kevorkian, Tina Magennis, Ana Matronic, George McCrae, David Morales, Tom Moulton, Colleen Murphy, John Parikhal, Kim Petras, Mark Riley, Allen Roskoff, Alex Rosner, Michelle Saunders, Jake Shears, Nicky Siano, Candi Staton, Jeanie Tracy, Barry Walters, Dexter Wansel, Anita Ward, Jessie Ware, Sharon White, Victor Willis, Earl Young, Jamie Principle, Robert Williams, Ron Trent, DJ Hollywood, Honey Dijon, and MNEK.

PBS Unveils Slate of Ocean and Freshwater Programming

PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger Feb. 12 at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour unveiled a new slate focused on ocean and freshwater-centered programming.

“In a critical year for ocean science and health, PBS is intensifying its commitment, complementing the multiyear climate initiative, and marking a crucial step towards enhancing awareness and tackling the urgent challenges our oceans face,” according to PBS.

The broad slate of programming will explore these issues through new and returning series including new docuseries “Hope in the Water,” “Dynamic Planet,” “Sea Change,” and returning series and episodes from “Changing Planet,” “Nature,” “Independent Lens” and “Weathered.”

Programming includes: 

“Nature: Patrick and the Whale” is a tale of cameraman Patrick Dykstra, and a sperm whale he named Delores. For years, Patrick has dedicated his life to traveling the globe following and diving with whales. He has learned how whales see and hear, how they perceive other creatures in the water, and how they behave at close quarters. His calm and delicate behavior around whales allows him to consistently get closer than anyone else. Viewers follow Patrick to the Caribbean where he meets a very special whale who allows him to enter her realm. Using extraordinary underwater footage, Patrick explores the fascinating world of the sperm whale and shines a light on its intelligence, complexity, and emotions. The program premieres Feb. 21 at 8 p.m. EST on PBS, PBS.org, and the PBS app.

“Changing Planet: Coral Special” embarks on the third year of a seven-year project examining the issues facing the planet’s most threatened ecosystems. Dr. M. Sanjayan visits the Maldives to take an in-depth look at coral reefs and the urgent efforts to help them survive climate change. Globally, coral reefs are at a crisis point — warming seas cause corals to bleach and without action nearly all reefs could die off in the next few decades. There’s a race against time to help damaged reefs recover. The program premieres April 24 at 8 p.m. EST on PBS, PBS.org and the PBS app.

“Independent Lens: One With the Whale” explores why hunting whales is a matter of life or death for the residents of St. Lawrence. When a shy Alaska Native teen becomes the youngest person ever to harpoon a whale for his village, his family is blindsided by thousands of keyboard activists brutally attacking him online — without full perspective on the importance of the hunt to his community’s well-being. The program premieres April 23 at 10 p.m. EST on PBS, PBS.org and the PBS app. The program will also be available on the PBS YouTube channel beginning on Earth Day, April 22.

“Hope in the Water” travels the globe to discover the creative solutions and breakthrough blue food technologies that could not only feed us but help save our threatened seas and fresh waterways. The series highlights the stories of amazing innovators, aquafarmers, and fishers who are working toward a sustainable future for the planet. The three-part series premieres June 19 at 9 p.m. EST on PBS, PBS.org, and the PBS app.

“Dynamic Planet” is a new series, filmed over three years, that travels to the extremes on all seven continents to meet an extraordinary group of people and animals living and working on the front line of climate change. They reveal how science, nature and tradition can prepare us for the future. It premieres in June 2024 on PBS, PBS.org, and the PBS app.

“Sea Change,” a special presentation of “Nova,” is a story about a sea within the sea, a body of water that is warming 99% faster than the global ocean. What happens here, for the animals in the water, for the jobs’ dependent upon them, and for the millions of people along its shores, is likely to happen worldwide. We are at a crossroads for the future of the Gulf – and our oceans. Does it retain enough of its biodiversity and regenerative strength to weather the human-induced storm? Is the sheer beauty of the place and spectacular range of its creatures enough to wake us to the stakes? A tale about a regional location with profound global implications, this three-part prime time documentary series premieres July 24 at 9 p.m. EST on PBS, the PBS app, and the “Nova” YouTube channel. A digital series produced by Indigenous filmmakers in collaboration with Vision Maker Media and “Nova” accompanies “Sea Change.”

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“Weathered,” based on the hit YouTube series on PBS Terra, is evolving into a six-episode longform series that uses weather and natural disasters to draw viewers into gripping stories about climate science. This first season features a range of ocean-related climate stories, from the coral reef collapse in Florida to melting ice caps to the connection between ocean currents and sea level rise. The series will reveal how we can prepare for these extremes as well as the groundbreaking solutions scientists and everyday people are exploring to make these weather events less likely in the future. It premieres August 2024 on the PBS App and YouTube.