History in Our DNA

February 6th, 2008

Thirteen blogger: Neal Shapiro, President

I’ve been watching and laughing at comedian Chris Rock’s performances for years, but I was so moved by his emotional reaction in tonight’s African American Lives 2, which is premiering tonight on Thirteen and on PBS stations all across America.

The series is about giving people a way to reclaim their own personal histories. For African Americans, perhaps few things are more eye-opening than discovering the stories of their ancestors – stories that were obscured by years of slavery America.

The series has gotten some wonderful reviews in news outlets around the country. But I must say, what really got my attention was a recent post to a blog called The Genetic Genealogist. “According to some sources, genetic genealogy testing rises considerably during February, which is Black History Month . . . . Part of this might be due to last year’s very popular TV show African American Lives on PBS. Starting next week (on the 6th) is the first half of the latest version of the show, African American Lives 2. I’ll be watching, and I think most of you will be interested in the show as well.”

Well, if that’s not a sign of impact, I don’t know what is.

This is a series that will mean something to everyone, not just African Americans, because there is something universal in learning who we are and where we come from.

When Chris Rock cries upon learning that his great-great grandfather enlisted as a soldier after 21 years as a slave, you see how this remarkable series transforms personal genealogy into our collective history.

When you see Tina Tuner’s jaw hit the floor at the news that her ancestor sold an acre of land to build the very school that Ms. Turner would one day attend . . . well, you realize the power this series has to touch us all.

You’ll see a lot of tears shed tonight by a lot of famous folks. Don’t be surprised if you shed a few of your own.

If you have a question about African American Lives or anything else on Thirteen, don’t keep it to yourself. Click “Write Neal” to send me your questions and comments.

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A Mayoral Proclamation

February 5th, 2008

Thirteen blogger: Neal Shapiro, President

As strong as our programming is, it isn’t every day that City Hall recognizes it in a special way.

But our African American Lives programming is very special.

Thirteen/WNET’s critically acclaimed African American Lives (2006) and Oprah’s Roots (2007) shined a national spotlight on the powerful process of discovering one’s family history.

Tomorrow night, Thirteen will be premiering African American Lives 2. This latest installment of the African American Lives project draws on DNA analysis, genealogical research and family oral tradition to trace the lineages of Maya Angelou, Morgan Freeman, Chris Rock, Tina Turner, Don Cheadle, and others down through U.S. history and back to Africa.

To recognize the unique value of this program, the City of New York has done something very special. Mayor Mike Bloomberg is proclaiming tomorrow, February 6, 2008, New York Heritage Discovery Day to honor New York City’s diversity and Thirteen’s tradition of multi-cultural programming.

I’ll be unveiling the proclamation tonight at a premiere screening hosted by Jazz at Lincoln Center. Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. – the acclaimed scholar who is host and writer of the series – will join me as we celebrate the power of public television to illuminate all our lives.

This proclamation is a wonderful example of the way that Thirteen makes a difference in our community. I’m really proud of it. And you should be, too. After all, Thirteen is YOUR public television station.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you a little bit more about African American Lives 2. In the meantime, if you have any questions about this series, or anything that goes on here at Thirteen, just hit the “Write Neal” link and send me your question. I’ll try to answer it here on Inside Thirteen soon.

New Chief, New Blog

February 4th, 2008

Thirteen blogger: Neal Shapiro, President

Dear Viewers,

I am delighted to let you know that starting today, I will be taking on the position of chief executive officer of Thirteen, completing the leadership transition that began when I became president of this great institution a year ago.

Bill Baker – the man who has become such an identifiable part of this amazing cultural institution in this great community of ours – will be stepping down after 20 remarkable years, and I am truly honored to succeed him.

It’s impossible to name all the contributions Bill has made during the past two decades. He transformed a regional public broadcaster into the flagship station in America. He oversaw the creation of some of the most respected programming in public television, including Charlie Rose, Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, Wide Angle, Exposé, Cyberchase, New York Voices, and many more. He launched a whole range of digital channels, Web sites and powerful educational outreach projects, such as the annual Teaching and Learning Celebration. Thanks to Bill’s remarkable dedication to the mission of this beloved cultural landmark, we have an incredible foundation to take public television into an exciting new era of service to our community and the nation.

Bill is stepping down, but not going away. As president emeritus, he will continue to be a part of our work and you will certainly be seeing him from time to time. We are grateful for all he has done in the past, and all he will certainly contribute in the future.

As for me, this has been an exciting time. As someone with a network news background, the past year has been a tremendous learning experience for me. Every day has been an education, and I’m proud to say that I’ve already been able to put some of my ideas to work:

The New York War Stories Project, which took advantage of user-generated content to create a local multimedia event around Ken Burns’s epic documentary, The War.

Reel 13, our reinvented Saturday cinema showcase, which includes an exciting Web site where filmmakers can submit short films and audiences can vote for the one they want to see on Thirteen.

And stay tuned, because I’ll be making some more exciting announcements about our Web site very soon.

That’s a taste of the kind of innovation I’m working to bring to everything we do here at Thirteen. In the weeks and months to come, we’ll be rolling out many more new initiatives like these – initiatives that capitalize on all that is great about our city and our region, that reflect and celebrate our community, that provide powerful educational opportunities to people of all ages, and that bring new relevance and excitement to Thirteen’s venerable tradition of intelligence, integrity and quality.

One of the most important things I can do as chief executive of this public institution is to open strong lines of communication with Thirteen’s community of viewers and members. That’s why I’m launching this new blog here on Thirteen Online where I’ll be talking about issues affecting Thirteen and answering questions from viewers on a regular basis. Please feel free to let me know what’s working and what could be improved. Your input is one of the keys to our success.

This is a time of change here at Thirteen. And change means we’ll be making this great public broadcaster stronger and more vibrant. But I promise you that one thing will not change. Thirteen’s commitment to you remains unwavering. Thirteen is your public television station. It’s a unique source of programming – a unique form of media – that you make possible.

And if you’re not already a member, I hope you will consider joining the community of individuals who make such a vital contribution to our work. Your support will help ensure that Thirteen remains independent, uncompromised and dedicated to excellence.

On behalf of everyone here at Thirteen, thanks for joining our mission.

Neal Shapiro