Category Archives: TV

Three “NATURE” programs that demand to be seen, flying high when bringing animal majesty to the screen

NATURE never fools with Mother Nature. Instead, the acclaimed PBS program produces incredible, educational must-see programs that land on DVD. Here is a triumvirate of recent faves.

Charlie and the Curious Otters
The program focuses on efforts to rehabilitate three orphaned river otters in Wisconsin, shows some ground breaking experiments using cool cameras and anatomical CGI, and captures other wild  encounters. At the Wild Instincts Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, Charlie is introduced to three orphan river otter pups and films their progress and training:  from needing around the clock care and feeding, to being taught the crucial skills they will need in order to return to the wild. Despite the fact otters can swim nearly a quarter mile without coming up for air, baby otters do not start out as natural swimmers and they don’t really like water. So the center’s manager Mark Naniot assumes the roles of surrogate mother and teacher. Charlie films him coaxing the pups into a small pool for swimming lessons and later adding minnows which the orphans instinctively chase and catch.

The filmmakers also go to Florida Springs, Florida where a clear spring fed river provides Charlie with great conditions to capture rare shots of otters hunting underwater. At the Oakland Zoo, he films otters hunting fish in slow motion to determine how they detect and capture their prey so quickly. He also visits the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s head vet Dr. Mike Murray who explains that sea otters have the densest fur in the animal kingdom which is a key survival asset both on land and in the water.

Naledi: One Little Elephant
The program chronicles the life of the orphaned baby pachyderm as she grows up with the help of her friends. Kiti, a gentle elephant in Botswana, was in her 661st day of pregnancy, a normal gestation period, when she finally gave birth to a baby girl. For nearly two weeks, the staff of Abu Camp, a halfway house for orphaned and former zoo and circus elephants, had been passing the time by coming up with a list of possible names for Kiti’s offspring. Perhaps because the calf was born at night, they called her Naledi, which means star in the local language.

But six weeks after giving birth, Kiti dies from a prolapse of the large intestine, and Naledi is left an orphan. Although elephant families are close, the program shows how precarious it is for a newborn to survive once it has lost its mother. Naledi needs to be nursed, so when the herd’s matriarch can’t produce enough milk and doesn’t know how to care for her, Mike, Wellie, and other caretakers decide to take drastic measures before it is too late. The film follows the team as they separate Naledi from the herd, relocate her to another part of Abu Camp, make sure a caretaker is always with her around the clock, work to establish a bond, and finally entice her to take milk from a bottle.

 

 

H is for the Hawk: A New Chapter
After the unexpected death of her photojournalist father, Helen Macdonald overcame her grief by training an adult goshawk, one of nature’s most notoriously wild and free-spirited birds of prey. She had trained birds before, but never this raptor which she named Mabel. Macdonald found healing in that cathartic experience which became the basis for her 2014 international best-selling memoir H Is for Hawk.


Now, 10 years after she trained Mabel (who died of untreatable infection just before the author finished writing her book), Macdonald is ready to take on the challenge again, prompted by watching how a pair of wild goshawks reared their chicks in an English forest. This film accompanies her on visits to the pair’s nest to observe the latest developments and follows Macdonald’s emotional and intimate journey as she adopts a young goshawk and attempts to raise it as her own:  feeding, nurturing, and training her new charge in the hopes the months of preparation will culminate in a successful first free flight.

 

 

“Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: Season 4” Goes Out on Many Limbs with Many Noted Fans of the Show  

The PBS series Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: Season 4  continues to branch out. Today’s leading artists, politicians, activists, performers and journalists discover surprising ancestral stories while learning their family history in the fourth season of the critically acclaimed series. Professor Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, continues exploring the mysteries, surprises and revelations hidden in the family trees of 28 of today’s most intriguing cultural trailblazers.

Comedian Larry David and politician Bernie Sanders discover they have more in common than they thought, tracing their roots back to Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. Comedic performers Amy Schumer, Aziz Ansari and Maya Rudolph learn contrasting stories of assimilation and independence all over the globe. Actors Fred Armisen and Christopher Walken and musician Carly Simon each learn about a grandparent whose real identity and background had been a mystery to them. Author Ta-Nehisi Coates, filmmaker Ava DuVernay, and author and activist Janet Mock see their basic assumptions about their families challenged, placing their ancestors—of all colors—into the greater context of black history.

Actors Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen and William H. Macy trace their nonconformist ancestors through American conflicts—the Civil War and the American Revolution, all the way back to the Puritan establishment. Journalists Bryant Gumbel and Suzanne Malveaux and producer and writer Tonya Lewis-Lee discover a tapestry of the unexpected as they delve into their ancestry, revealing slaves and free people of color, Civil War legacies, and forgotten European origins. Actor Lupita Nyong’o, NBA star Carmelo Anthony and political commentator Ana Navarro trace their African heritage, investigating the political choices of their fathers and discovering sometimes unexpected heritage.

Also, actors Tea Leoni and Gaby Hoffmann both have lives shaped by family mysteries and are introduced to the identities and life stories of their biological ancestors, thanks to DNA detective work. DJ and producer Questlove, talk show host Dr. Phil, and journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault’s family stories are rooted in the American south. Actors Scarlett Johansson, Paul Rudd and John Turturro, all with immigrant parents, gain greater understanding of the unique challenges their ancestors faced by way of prejudice and poverty at home and abroad.

“The Read Mad Men of Advertising” provides an inside look into the men and women who re-invented the advertising industry

Ah, men. Real men. Who know how to sell. Anything. Public Media Distribution has released the Smithsonian Channel series The Read Mad Men of Advertising on DVD. The series provides an inside look into the men and women who re-invented the advertising industry from post-WWII America through the ’80s. Driven by memorable, classic ad campaigns, many of which are in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the series also features clips and interviews with the creators of the groundbreaking series Mad Men.

In 2015, the National Museum of American History accepted a donation of artifacts, costumes and props from the series Mad Men against the backdrop of actual advertising history as displayed in its exhibition, American Enterprise. The Real Mad Men of Advertising uses these museum objects to explore the fascinating commercials and ad campaigns of mid-century America. Ads from Howdy Doody to MTV reveal the impact of commercial culture, while clips and interviews with Mad Men cast and crew members offer a glimpse into the meticulously constructed world of the iconic series.

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Their stories are set alongside interviews with the real ad men and women of the ’50s through the ’80s–from the top ad creators of the ’50s to Brooke Shields, who as a teen model was the centerpiece of a controversial early ’80s Calvin Klein ad campaign.

 

 

Two new titles from PBS Distribution are must-see history lessons

PBS Distribution has released the series Slavery and the Making of America on DVD and Digital HD. Produced by THIRTEEN/WNET New York, this landmark series documents the history of American slavery from its beginnings in the British colonies through the years of post-Civil War Reconstruction.  The program examines the integral role slavery played in shaping the new country’s development, challenging the long held notion that it was exclusively a Southern enterprise.

Through the remarkable stories of individual slaves, the program offers fresh perspectives on the slave experience and testifies to the active role that Africans and African Americans took in surviving their bondage and shaping their own lives.


For months, reports of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election have dominated the headlines. FRONTLINE: Putin’s Revenge (PBS Distribution) tells the epic, inside story of how Vladimir Putin came to see the United States as an enemy, how U.S. intelligence came to believe he targeted the 2016 presidential election, the fallout under President Obama and now in the Trump administration, and the implications for the future of American democracy.

The program draws on more than 60 interviews with heads of U.S. intelligence agencies, diplomats, Russian politicians, historians and journalists to trace how Putin went from low-ranking KGB agent to long-serving president of a newly assertive Russia with the ability to wage cyber-war in the U.S. and across the globe.

With in-depth reporting from Moscow and Washington, D.C., Putin’s Revenge is a riveting and revealing documentary that explores why Putin has sought to sow distrust in America’s democracy.

The first part of the program is a portrait of what makes the Russian leader tick, and the events that shaped his belief that the U.S. has sought to undermine Russia dating back to the fall of the Soviet Union. It explores how Putin came to power and then carefully constructed his image, cracking down on independent media outlets and opponents. It also traces key turning points in Putin’s relationship with the U.S. over the years, including how his fear of a U.S. policy of regime change intensified, and how he came to see Hillary Clinton in particular as an enemy trying to oust him–despite State Department insistence it was only promoting democracy, not trying to steer the outcome of Russia’s election.

The second half delves into the riveting story of Russian involvement in the 2016 election, and how and why the Obama administration struggled to confront Putin about both election interference and, before that, Putin’s actions in Ukraine.  The program   shows Donald Trump’s repeated praise of Putin, how Russia is believed to have weaponized hacked emails to influence U.S. news cycles and exploit the gulf between Hillary Clinton’s and Bernie Sanders’ supporters, and how false stories picked up by Russian propaganda websites were then promoted by Russian trolls and bots on social media, and eventually found their way onto mainstream American news broadcasts.

Against the backdrop of investigations by the FBI and Congress into the role Russia played in the election, Putin’s Revenge is the must-watch, inside story of how we reached this point, what drives Putin, and what might happen next.

Dung beetles, bull elk, saber-toothed tigers and rhinoceros beetles star in “NOVA: Extreme Animal Weapons”

From lobster claws and dog teeth to bee stings and snake fangs, every creature depends on a weapon. But some are armed to extremes that make no practical sense—whether it’s bull elks with giant 40-pound antler racks or tiny rhinoceros beetles with horns bigger than their body. What explains giant tusks, horns and claws that can slow an animal down and even impair health and nutrition?

The answers are available in NOVA: Extreme Animal Weapons, coming to DVD from PBS Distribution on February 13.

Showcasing astonishing wildlife cinematography, the program investigates the riddle of outsize weaponry and uncovers a bold new theory about what triggers an animal arms race. In creatures as varied as dung beetles and saber-toothed tigers, shrimp and elephants, the same hidden factors trigger the race and, once started, these arms races unfold in exactly the same pattern. In this enthralling special, NOVA cracks the secret biological code that underlies nature’s battleground.

Christopher Kimball’s tasty new series “Milk Street” is the cream of the crop!

Public Media Distribution is always cooking some mighty tasty programs. Let us introduce you to the premiere season of Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street: Season 1 on DVD and Digital HD. The test cooks of Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street search the world over for techniques that can add a little kick, and convenience, to everyday American cooking. Each episode gives viewers the chance to see the process at work as they test, edit, and translate what they learn into the home-cooking environment from other countries and cultures. Where in the world will inspiration strike next? Join these cooks on their culinary quest to transform the way America cooks and eats.

Filmed across the world, Season One of Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street travels to Thailand, Mexico, Peru, Israel, and London–and also films in the home of their magazine and cooking school, the kitchen at 177 Milk Street in downtown Boston. Follow the journey from first bite to kitchen-tested recipe as they translate what they learn into new flavor combinations, like the tahini and cocoa powder used to elevate simple brownies. They revive old classics, like their caramel-sauced oranges recipe that borrows from the Brits by way of Italy.

Milk Street Television offers viewers great variety in terms of how to learn.  Cooking lessons are filmed in front of a live audience at Milk Street with host Kimball and a Milk Street cook. Milk Street Shorts are short, quick recipes that can usually be made in just minutes. Milk Street Basics offer viewers tips and techniques that apply to a wide range of recipes. The Milk Street Kitchen Cabinet introduces viewers to tools and cookware and also provides new ways to use them. Milk Street Pantry recipes offer simple instructions for making sauces, dips, and the like. Finally, Milk Street Travels gives viewers a glimpse into the wide world of food with segments filmed on location, from London to Thailand.

Queen Elizabeth and Her “Secret Service” . . . a father and son team who Bond to her

It’s tough being queen even for a day. Yet imagine what her “secret service” goes through. You can find out with the Queen Elizabeth’s Secret Agents (PBS Distribution)  on DVD and Digital HD.

The documentary  will be available on DVD on February 13; the program will also be available for digital download.

Discover the secret agency that helped Queen Elizabeth I while she was in power for more than 40 years. During a time when Britain and Queen Elizabeth’s realm was divided, unstable, and violent, the world’s first secret service was born. Run by William and Robert Cecil, this father-and-son team had the duty of protecting the Queen and the Country.

Leading historians study the period from different principals’ points of view. They dissect the minds and motivations of key players, to uncover an intricate, covert spy network, revealing how Elizabethan England really was. In three in-depth episodes, the program takes us through the biggest events of Elizabeth’s reign, the entrapment and execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, the capture and escape of catholic fugitive John Gerard and the most infamous terrorist conspiracy in British history, the Gunpowder Plot.

“American Masters: This is Bob Hope” celebrates the 80-year career of Skinose

PBS Distribution is ready to thank him for the memories. They have just released American Masters: This is Bob Hope on DVD and Digital HD. During his eight-decade career, Hope was the only performer to achieve top-rated success in every form of mass entertainment: vaudeville, Broadway, movies, radio, television, popular songs and personal appearances, including his annual USO Christmas military tours and hosting the Academy Awards more times than anyone else.

A comedy innovator, Hope invented the topical monologue that later became a late-night TV staple and comedy tropes like talking while backing up. He refined a spontaneous, conversational, improvisational style of comedy as a vaudeville master of ceremonies that created a blueprint for acerbic stand-up comics.

Written, directed and produced by John Scheinfeld, the documentary presents a candid look at a remarkable life. With unprecedented access to Hope’s personal archives, including writings voiced by Billy Crystal and clips from Hope’s body of work to reveal a gifted individual who recognized the power of fame, the documentary presents Hope’s handling of celebrity with extraordinary wit and grace, becoming a model for public service in Hollywood.

The program features new interviews with Woody Allen, Dick Cavett, Margaret Cho, daughter Linda Hope, Kermit the Frog, film critic/historian Leonard Maltin, Conan O’Brien, Tom Selleck, Brooke Shields, Connie Stevens and biographer Richard Zoglin (Hope: Entertainer of the Century). Edited to evoke the fast, fun pace of Hope’s classic monologues, clips include highlights from numerous TV specials, his Pepsodent radio shows and classic films like The Cat and the Canary, My Favorite Blonde, his iconic Road pictures with Bing Crosby, and The Big Broadcast of 1938, featuring his signature song “Thanks for the Memory.”

VERMEER, BEYOND TIME paints an absorbing portrait of the influential artist

Images from his paintings have become part of our collective imagination and are instantly recognizable and include pieces such as “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, “The Astronomer” and “The Geographer”.  The artful documentary Vermeer, Beyond Time (Public Media Distribution, LLC ) explores the life and work of one of the most loved, influential, and well-known artists, Johannes Vermeer. The film is narrated by actor Steve Martin.

In the program, French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Cottet adopts an imaginative and sensitive approach to Vermeer, focusing on not only his work, but also his family life.  Cottet looks at Vermeer’s conversion to Catholicism, his artistic contemporaries, and the wider world of the short lived Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century.

In 1675, overwhelmed by poverty, physically weakened, and humiliated, Vermeer dies at the age of 43. Soon afterwards, his paintings are sold to cover his debts, and Vermeer disappears from memory. His rediscovery some 200 years later has seen his popularity soar, claiming both our hearts and our admiration.

“Havana time Machine” takes viewers to the fertile land of Cuba, hosted by maverick Raul Malo

“Like most Americans, Cuba seems like a dream, a land of rhythm and rum, of Ricky Ricardo and revolutionaries, baseball greats, gangsters, casinos, classic cars and big cigars. But for me, it’s the home I’ve never known, the place that my parents were formed, who in turn formed me. The roots of my musical soul have been reaching for Cuban soil my entire life. And now the reality is beyond my wildest dream.”

So remarks Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter of The Mavericks and bandleader Raul Malo near the start of Great Performances: Havana Time Machine, a pioneering music documentary, one of the first U.S. productions since travel restrictions have opened up in Cuba.

Born Raúl Francisco Martínez-Malo, Jr. to Cuban parents in Miami, the versatile roots-rock music singer embarks on a musical and historical odyssey through the present-day Cuban capital in the program, a US/Cuba collaborative musical showcase.

Hermetically sealed by the Cold War for more than half a century Cuba remains, for the vast majority of Americans, the “Undiscovered Country,” a unique time capsule of cultural traditions, relatively untouched. But the recent thawing of Cuban-U.S. relations is forging new relationships based on collaboration. The evolution of the Revolution creates a unique opportunity for a unique presentation to showcase the tropical kaleidoscope that is Havana’s musical scene, past, present and future.

Documented by richly atmospheric camera work, Malo visits such iconic locales as the grand boulevard, the Paseo del Prado; a small apartment/recording studio in Nuevo Vedado; the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA); the former farm estate of Ernest Hemingway; and Los Jardines De La Tropical, a once-magical beer garden now overtaken by jungle.  Along with way, Malo has musical encounters with such luminaries as Eliades Ochoa, an original member of the famed Buena Vista Social Club; acclaimed Cuban singer Ivette Cepeda; Sweet Lizzy Project, a modern Latin indie-pop band; and piano-jazz maestro Roberto Fonseca. The beloved band The Mavericks perform music from their highly acclaimed new album Brand New Day (Mono Mundo Recordings).

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