NEW YORK (AP) — PBS was looking forward to a relatively free lane to offer fresh television to viewers downtrodden by the Hollywood strikes this fall, but that advantage may only last a couple of months now.
A tentative deal reached late Sunday in the crippling TV writers strike, with hopes that actors would soon follow suit, has given rise to hopes that new episodes of favorite scripted shows might return sometime this winter.
With commercial networks largely bereft of fresh material beyond reality shows, sports and game shows, PBS has a fall schedule of new programming, including a heavy dose of nonfiction, led by Ken Burns’ look at “The American Buffalo.”
“I have to believe that people are looking for new stuff,” said Paula Kerger, CEO of the Public Broadcasting Service.
PBS’ plans were virtually unaffected by the strike. One exception is a delay making “American Historia,” a three-part documentary series helmed by actor John Leguizamo about Latino figures in history, Kerger said. PBS acquired the docuseries “ Becoming Frida Kahlo,” about the artist, to replace it and it premiered last week.
PBS has also bought a few more scripted series that were made outside of the U.S., she said. Most of them are aimed at PBS’ streaming service, although the Danish series “Seaside Hotel” has aired on the television network.
For the most part, however, PBS has to plan well in advance and isn’t nimble enough to quickly switch things up to take advantage of how rivals were affected by the strike, she said.
A British drama about the lives of people fighting World War II, “World on Fire,” is premiering its second season in October. Its first season aired two years ago, but production has been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Burns’ series premieres on Oct. 16. Among the nonfiction projects on the docket this fall are “Evolution Earth,” about how animals are adapting to changes in their habitat caused by humans; “The Busing Battleground,” about the 1970s-era integration fight in Boston; along with “American Masters” programs on Jerry Brown, lawyer Floyd Abrams and drummer Max Roach.
“Frontline” will sink its teeth into Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on the Russian press and the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal. The “Frontline” documentary collaboration with The Associated Press, “20 Days in Mariupol,” premieres on the service on Nov. 21.
“Nova” will have a five-part series on “Ancient Earth” in October and will also look at the fight against malaria.
Other scripted series are on the docket, including “Unforgotten,” “Van Der Valk,” and “Little Bird,” the latter about an adopted woman who tries to investigate her personal history.
Until new material is available on the commercial networks, Kerger has her hand up, hoping people take notice of what PBS has to offer. That may be the best she can do, since there’s no coordinated advertising campaign to tell people what’s out there.
“Our marketing budgets are usually pretty slim,” she said.
This story has been corrected to show that the premiere for Ken Burns’ documentary, “The American Buffalo,” is Oct. 16.