The Ken Burns Cat Out Of The PBS Bag

PBS has officially announced details of Ken Burns’ update to his 1994 PBS “Baseball” documentary, including the (cough) interesting (ahem) line-up (cut to the second paragraph) of interviewees:

Ken Burns’ “The Tenth Inning,” the follow-up to his nine-part 1994 “Baseball” documentary, finally will air on PBS Sept. 28-29, the final weekend of the regular season for Major League Baseball.

Roger Angell, John Thorn, George Will, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Bob Costas return for “Tenth,” and are joined by new interviewees Keith Olbermann, Joe Torre, Pedro Martinez and Ichiro Suzuki.

If you have a long memory, you may recall that Ken and I did not see eye-to-eye on the original series, which was to me a great sadness because I had so enjoyed his “The Civil War” (I watch it at least annually, usually twice a year). I had no desire to make any public criticism of it but was kind of asked to by ESPN when USA Today came asking the network for one of it’s baseball historians to address the series.
Happily, that is a long time ago and Ken and I have since become good friends. He’s been a guest on tv with me several times and did me the honor of letting me see a rough cut of the “Tenth Inning” supplement. It’s exceptional, retains his distinctive style and pace despite the greater availability of video, it’s historically perfect, and as always with his series (Shelby Foote in “The Civil War,” the late Buck O’Neil in the original “Baseball,” and all of the principals in his epic of WWII, “The War”), it will make stars out of some of the interviewees. For my money, ESPN’s Howard Bryant might be the breakout guy of the new production. My MSNBC colleague Mike Barnicle is terrific too. The most fascinating thing for the fan: Pedro Martinez at his reflective best, candid and moving, and a few memorable clips from the first sit-down interview I’ve ever seen with Ichiro. It’s in Japanese, it’s worth it, and he’s thoughtful, proud, and funny.
Me? I’ll do but it was a bad hair day.

24 Comments

The Civil War is Burns’ masterpiece as far as I am concerned. I enjoyed Baseball, however, if my not so long memory serves me, you had some issues with its accuracy in parts. I am not an expert (just a fan) so I yield to your majesty as the truther in this. Just don’t get too cocky about it (or “twocky” in the Twitterverse). I look forward to the sequel, bad hair notwithstanding.

Oh, and could you not wear that black tie with the black suit again? You looked like a mortician. :>)

You wrote of the update:

“It’s exceptional, retains his distinctive style and pace despite the greater availability of video, it’s historically perfect, and as always with his series (Shelby Foote in “The Civil War,” the late Buck O’Neil in the original “Baseball,” and all of the principals in his epic of WWII, “The War”), it will make stars out of some of the interviewees.”

Pretend your producer made a suggestion: “Give some details to the tease; not enough carrot to makes someone sit through 3 minutes of commercials.”

No risk if you agree. Some if you don’t.

Let us know.

Sweet…best news I’ve heard all night! I loved the original nine innings, and I’m confident that Burns will do equally as compelling a job with the more current material.
http://zkonedog.mlblogs.com/

Looking forward to it! Please remind us when the time gets closer, would you? The one thing I’m known for among friends and family is… uhh… is… oh crap. I forgot. ;)

Too bad Ken Burns did not show the same level of respect for jazz with his series. His overlooking of the last 30 years of the genre was the equivalent of going into loving detail about baseball up until the ’75 World Series and then doing a “This was followed by 2 strikes–the latter causing the cancellation of that year’s World Series–and the so-called steroid era. The End.” Unforgivable.

Looking forward to seeing “The Tenth Inning” when it airs later this year…..sounds interesting :)

Very off-topic:I disagree with mrylngreen on the subject of the black on black color scheme…..some of my best friends are funeral directors and are all very classy dressers. I thought you looked just fine……very sober and serious, though your have the very imp of mischief peeking out when you grin and make your crew/guests LOL ;)

My two favorite things– jazz and baseball– and somehow Ken Burns got the honor of making the “definitive” documentaries on them. I find his style annoying, especially his “Americana” approach to these two admittedly very American contributions to world culture. Burns is falsely cozy, touchy-feely, Capracorn-esque. MLB Network does a better job with its “Prime 9″ shows and the Bob Costas interviews. Like most people in the media, entertainment and otherwise, who are considered important today (not you, Keith), Ken Burns just oozes mediocrity. When I see his name on a Billie Holiday CD (“Ken Burns Jazz”) I think– why should his name be on there? When this program comes on, I’ll be listening to Miles Davis’s “On the Corner” sessions from the 1970s (take that Marsalis!) or watching an All-Time Game on MLB Network.

I need to identify myself a little here. I’m a history professor (thus my moniker) and my graduate adviser was a consultant on “The Civil War.” I thought it was a masterpiece. Yes, he could have gone deeper into some issues, but it’s television and there’s a limit.

I’m also a baseball nut or I wouldn’t be here, and that documentary didn’t do it for me. One problem: Burns didn’t change his approach. There was a LOT of video he could have used and instead he stuck with stills and, especially, talking heads far more than he needed to. Buck O’Neil? Perfect. But Stephen Jay Gould and Doris Kearns Goodwin and Gerald Early and Bob Costas and George Will? However much they love the game and however articulate they were or are, overused. There isn’t any video of the Civil War, and his approach to that worked perfectly. But the way he did baseball would have been tantamount to doing his full documentary on jazz and using only three excerpts of the music.

The other problem was, oddly, the lack of certain talking heads. His main broadcaster was Bob Costas, but he barely used Vin Scully and didn’t use Ernie Harwell, both of whom had even then been around the game for so long–and if Burns wants to claim they didn’t want to talk with him or he didn’t get good footage, that is bull, and he would know that.

I AM glad he’s updating it, and I hope he is going to manage to talk about teams other than the ones in the northeast. I even say that as a Dodger fan, and he certainly paid attention to Dodger history (and his work on Jackie Robinson was magnificent).

I haven’t seen the Civil War, but I loved Baseball and Jazz while at the same time agreeing with most criticisms of them, which I guess is a bit weird.
@mantlewasarockstar : I agree that Burns neglected so much Modern Jazz, but hey the thing was still 9 days long, he had to stop somewhere. I wonder how much to credit Wynton Marsalis for that shortcoming, as he has become a bit of a spokesman for getting jazz back to its roots and may have influenced Burns to focus so much on the pre-war jazz era. I personally was disappointed by the lack of coverage of the West Coast Scene myself.

I agree that Baseball did not take advantage of enough video. I have the book for Baseball and reading it is just like watching the show!

Keith Olbermann, Ken Burns & Pedro Martinez. Perfect. Perfect. Perfect.

Pedro, the best pitcher I have ever seen in my lifetime. People can argue that there were better. If there are, I haven’t seen him. It was pure magic watching him when he was at the top of his game. No other athlete on this planet gave me as much joy as he did when he pitched. When his turn came to start a game, we all headed over to Fenway. All of us. Sometimes @ 6:00 in the morning, to get in line for standing room tickets. But we didn’t care. Sometimes we went to NY or Baltimore. Just to watch him pitch. I still miss him here in Boston.

Ken Burns, the best there is at making documentaries. The Civil War, Baseball, Our National Parks, The Brooklyn Bridge. I loved his documentary on Baseball. Loved it. And I am taking my two granddaughters to the National Parks next year after watching his series on the parks. This summer we are taking a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge.

Keith Olbermann, who continues to inspire me to think, to read. To learn. And sometimes, to just laugh. Thank you Keith. I look forward to Countdown every single evening.

I am looking forward to this program in September. Thanks for letting us know.

Bob Costas. The best at talking baseball. The absolute best.

I remember his line from Baseball:

Were there better players than Jackie Robinson? Yes.

Was there a more important player than Jackie Robinson?

Who?

And Doris Kearns Goodwin. I’ve read all his books. But her book about growing up in Brooklyn was such a lovely portrait of a little girl growing up with her father and the Dodgers. She reminded me a little of me, although I was older than her before I started really following the Red Sox on an hourly basis.

“Pedro, the best pitcher I have ever seen in my lifetime. People can argue that there were better. If there are, I haven’t seen him.” —–Bob Gibson.

History Lover, thanks for responding. I hope I made it clear, I wasn’t beefing about any inaccuracies. I was complaining more about how Burns made the documentary. All of that said, I liked his talking heads. I just had a problem with how–more accurately, how much–he used them.

Re Ichiro: Costas did a fabulous interview with him on his HBO show several years ago. As you say, intelligent and quite funny. My favorite current player with sneakily insane stats.

blotzphoto,
Forgive me for repeating myself but “he had to stop somewhere” would not have been acceptable if after the 1975 WS–arguably the greatest ever played–Burns had summed up the years since as “2 players strikes and the steroid era.” Which is what he basically did in his Jazz doc.

I’ll let my one-time music biz colleague, and respected jazz critic, David Adler explain it best:

“Having acknowledged Miles Davis?s birthing of what came to be known as fusion, the film stops with a stunningly vague comment about how more fusion bands soon emerged to follow Miles?s example. None are named. Thus is the music of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Headhunters, Weather Report, and Return to Forever written out of the history of jazz. In fact, the 1970s as a whole basically never happened in Burns?s view. It is left for Branford Marsalis, who knows better, to declare that ‘jazz just went away for a while.’

During the course of the Miles discussion, Wynton Marsalis all but dismisses the electric guitar as a non-jazz instrument, closing off the possibility that Pat Metheny and John Scofield ? both of whom drew considerable crowds while jazz was supposedly dead ? made meaningful contributions to the music. The film, giving similar treatment to the electric bass (referred to ineptly in the script as “electronic” bass), also dispenses with the towering influence of Jaco Pastorius.”
http://www.allaboutjazz.com/articles/arti0201_03.htm

Wynton Marsalis–and other contributors to the doc, like Stanley Crouch–are avowed haters of electric instruments in jazz and their disdain for modern jazz has been amply documented. Many critics have suggested that Marsalis held the keys to much of the contacts, research and info Burns needed for the doc and that his participation may have hinged upon Burns excluding those movements within the genre the famed trumpeter has issues with.

(To those of you uninterested in this slightly off-topic post, I apologize.)

Sigh. Insomnia strikes again.
The job of a documentary filmmaker cannot be easy. Short of doing an exhaustive big-screen treatment of one of these historically/culturally significant subject matters, a la Oliver Stone, I feel that Ken Burns did a wonderful job on JAZZ, on the small screen. It’s my favorite.
Considering the voluminous amount of information and film footage available, I can’t for the life of me imagine how terribly difficult it must have been for Burns to have to decide which information was either included or discarded from the final cut of JAZZ, due to time/budgetary constraints. Perhaps he could do a follow-up on JAZZ, as he is doing with his Baseball epic and the upcoming ?The Tenth Inning?. @mantlewasarockstar: In the meantime, I’ll happily listen to my Weather Report and Pat Metheny CDs. :)
Keith, here I go again being wildly off topic on your blog. I’m surprised the ever-patient MLB folks haven’t banned me yet. But I have to agree with @mrylngreen: The black-on-black the other night made you look like one of the undertakers on ?Six Feet Under.? I loved that show, but wished you had paired the black suit (which looked gorgeous) with a light gray or purple tie, or patterned shirt :(
I’ve Tweeted you, and you have made one California lady very happy by responding . . . once (though I’m NOT complaining!) . . . but I find Twitter’s 140-character limit oh-so confining! I’m vowing to get better at being a briefer, wittier Tweeter-er in the future, but I’m not holding my breath!
BTW, your new Countdown promos are very stylish. While I’m not a ?fangirl? in the strictest sense, my only complaint is that I feel you should own up to having a puss which is exceedingly easy on the eyes, and does more to help than hinder your ratings. :)

Here’s MY problem with Ken Burns: He wants to have it both ways, creating both historical documentary on film and an individual artist’s interpretation.

He poses and presents himself as a maker of documentaries, laying claim to “telling the story” of Baseball, Jazz, the U.S. Civil War or World War II.

Yet, when challenged on his errors, omissions and bias, he presents himself as a creative artist with the freedom (or license) to interpret.

Without being stuck in the narrow duality of “You’re either one thing or another,” I think the two professions (scholar and artist) have different versions of “integrity” with little or no overlap. Call it “external truth” and “internal truth.” (But don’t switch ‘em. What is on second, and Who is on first.)

But I find Twitter’s 140-character limit oh-so confining! I’m vowing to get better at being a briefer, wittier Tweeter-er in the future, but I’m not holding my breath! art school

Many critics have suggested that Marsalis held the keys to much of the contacts, research and info Burns needed for the doc and that his participation may have hinged upon Burns excluding those movements within the genre the famed trumpeter has issues with. business management degree

nIEQjI In awe of that answer! Really cool!

Thanks for sharing this information, keep up the good work.
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Thus is the music of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Headhunters, Weather Report, and Return to Forever written out of the history of jazz. education degree

Wow. This blog is truly a gold mine. I have been wallowing on this for quite sometime and here I am reading about it! I will actually read all news.
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