Public Television by Decade: Pioneers of Thirteen

September 9, 2016


Updated Nov. 1, 2017

If you grew up in the New York City metropolitan area — and with a rotary dial telephone — the PBS station THIRTEEN has probably provided you a lot of “firsts.” Your first earful of people who speak English with odd, clipped accents (Masterpiece), your first live concert with a giant of Soul music (Soul!), and your first reality tv show (An American Family). The largest public television station in the country, THIRTEEN also produces some of the most successful series on PBS. People you may have commuted alongside in New Jersey, New York, or Long Island are the makers of Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, and PBS NewsHour Weekend at THIRTEEN.

When Thirteen turned 50 years old in 2013, it created Pioneers of THIRTEEN, a series that looks back at the biggest innovations, star performances and important documentaries of each decade. Episodes to stream are: Pioneers of THIRTEEN: The 60s—Experimental DaysPioneers of THIRTEEN: The 70s—Bold and Fearless, narrated by Meryl Streep; Pioneers of THIRTEEN: The 80s—Trusted Voice, narrated by Parker Posey; and Pioneers of THIRTEEN: The 90s and Beyond.

Consider becoming a member of THIRTEEN today!

Classic 1960s

Julia Child: The French Chef

combo_JULIAShe was not a French chef, but she brought the excitement of cooking delicious and  hard-to-pronounce dishes to Americans’ kitchens.

Cooking legend and cultural icon Julia Child, along with her pioneering public television series, The French Chef, introduced French cuisine to American kitchens. In her passionate and sometimes breathless way, Julia forever changed the way we cook, eat, and think about food. Entertaining, fun, and real in a way that influenced every television cooking program that followed, The French Chef embraced Julia’s passion for food and teaching and reflected her joie de vivre: “If I can do it, you can do it…and here’s how to do it!”

Chefs of all ages and abilities can share Julia’s love of fine French food and learn to cook some of her most-loved dishes with the special collection of 18 episodes from her original series, The French Chef, which began in 1962. In her signature style and with bloopers intact, Julia demonstrates such classic recipes as boeuf bourguignon from her debut show, salade Nicoise, bouillabaisse a la Marseillaise, mousseline au chocolat, and many more delicious dishes. Bon appetit! The French Chef DVD is sold on Shop PBS.

Sesame Street Old School

combo_SESAMELike most children, I thought Sesame Street came to life each day just for me, but the program produced by the Children’s Television Workshop has been speaking directly to young audiences before I was verbal (it premiered November 10, 1969).

Were some of your first friends named Grover, Mr. Hooper, and Bob? Do you remember the Ladybug Picnic? How about Pinball Number Count? Sesame Street Old School is a time capsule of the early days of the ground breaking series you grew up on. Take a trip back in time with Bert, Ernie, Big Bird and Snuffleupagus. Sing along with classics like “C is for Cookie,” “I Love Trash,” and “Rubber Duckie.” The music, memories, and mayhem from Sesame Street’s first five seasons can be enjoyed again and again on the Sesame Street Old School DVD!

Classic 1970s

I, Claudius

combo_CLAUDIUSHave you watched Derek Jacobi recently in Vicious, co-starring with Ian McKellen? A comic actor for all times, Jacobi made Roman history fun again in I, Claudius.

This superbly acted, mordantly funny romp through 70 years of Roman history is one of the best-loved TV miniseries ever made. Derek Jacobi plays Roman Emperor Claudius, who reflects in old age on his life and his remarkable family. Roman history comes alive in this magnificent 13-part series, which originally aired on PBS Masterpiece Theatre in 1976. Tracing the lives of the last of the Roman emperors, it’s an epic of ruthless ambition, shocking debauchery and murderous intrigue set in one of history’s most fascinating eras. This collector’s edition set includes a unique documentary feature, The Epic That Never Was” (1965, 71 min.), a remarkable behind-the-scenes look at Alexander Korda’s ill-fated 1937 screen adaptation of I, Claudius. Starring Merle Oberon and Charles Laughton, the chronicle of this unfinished masterpiece is an unforgettable coda to one of the greatest stories ever told. Also includes a new interview with Derek Jacobi discussing his role as Claudius and other costume dramas.

Upstairs, Downstairs

combo_UPSTAIRSDid you too sense a fog descending in the living room when the television tuned in to British Masterpiece series such as When the Boat Comes In and Upstairs, Downstairs?

Upstairs: the wealthy, aristocratic Bellamys. Downstairs: their loyal and lively servants. For nearly 30 years, they share a fashionable townhouse at 165 Eaton Place in London’s posh Belgravia neighborhood, surviving social change, political upheaval, scandals, and the horrors of the First World War. Set between 1903 and 1909, Series One introduces Sir Richard Bellamy and his elegant wife, Marjorie, who reside upstairs with their dissolute son, James, and headstrong daughter, Elizabeth. Living and working downstairs are Hudson, the proper butler; Mrs. Bridges, the garrulous cook; the calm and watchful maid Rose; and many more. In this outstanding drama series, love blooms, tragedy strikes, scandals are avoided, and wedding bells sound. The program ran from 1971-1975.

Classic 1980s

Brideshead Revisited

combo_BRIDESHEADIf you’re missing a sense of nostalgia, have we got the definitive dose of  it for you.

Two young men meet at Oxford: Charles Ryder, a commoner, and aristocrat Sebastian Flyte. Charles becomes involved with Sebastian’s family, Catholic peers of the realm in Protestant England. The story is told in flashback as Charles revisits Brideshead, Sebastian’s family home, where Charles remembers his youth and young manhood, his loves, life, and a journey of faith and anguish. This series aired in 1981 and launched the careers of stars Jeremy Irons (Great Performances: The Hollow Crown) and Anthony Andrews.

The Power of Myth

With a much-appreciated virtual pat on the back, Joseph Campbell encourages us to see parts of our lives as heroic journeys.

combo_MYTHIn 1988, renowned scholar Joseph Campbell sat down with veteran journalist Bill Moyers for a series of interviews that became one of the most enduringly popular programs ever aired on public television. In dialogues that span millennia of history and far-flung geography, the two men discuss myths as metaphors for human experience. Shop PBS sells the DVD The Power of Myth.

Classic 1990s

Tales of the City

Before there was Sex & the City, there was Tales of the City, set in a city — not quite as big — on the opposite side of the continent from New York City.

combo_TALESNewly arrived in freewheeling 1970s San Francisco, wide-eyed Mary Ann Singleton (Laura Linney) quickly realizes just how far from Cleveland she really is. Moving into a funky house at 28 Barbary Lane – where her landlady (Olympia Dukakis) welcomes her with a joint – Mary Ann befriends the other residents and finds a good-natured home amid the drugs, drama, and debauchery. Based on Armistead Maupin’s beloved novel, this Peabody Award-winning PBS miniseries deftly chronicles the quest for love and connection across a spectrum of sexual experiences. With an outstanding ensemble cast, Tales of the City remains a television landmark. (Contains nudity, coarse language, drug use, and sexual situations.) This show aired in 1993.