American Masters (2010 Season) – When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors

Air date: 05/12/2010

THIRTEEN’s American Masters premieres the first feature documentary on the rock band that helped define the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors, premiering May 12, 2010 on PBS


Directed by Tom DiCillo, narrated by Johnny Depp, and produced by Wolf Films’ (Law & Order) Dick Wolf and Peter Jankowski, the film features previously unseen footage of the controversial and influential rock band.

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The story of The Doors is one of the most compelling in the history of American rock music; three hugely talented musicians and a lead singer whose commitment to artistic freedom was so intense he rocketed them to a success that always hovered on the edge of chaos.  As an independent filmmaker this sensibility affected me greatly.”

— Tom DiCillo, director and writer, When You’re Strange


The creative chemistry of four brilliant artists – drummer John Densmore, guitarist Robby Krieger, keyboardist Ray Manzarek and singer Jim Morrison – made The Doors one of America’s most iconic and influential, theatrical and mysterious, thrilling and sometime frightening rock bands.  Narrated by Johnny Depp, American Masters: When You’re Strange is the first feature documentary about The Doors, premiering nationally Wednesday, May 12, 2010 at 9 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings).  The film tells their story using only original footage – much of it previously unseen – shot between their formation in 1965 and Morrison’s death in 1971.  “From the outset I decided to use only original footage of this astonishing band,” says Tom DiCillo, director and writer of When You’re Strange.  “To me, there is nothing more powerful and riveting that seeing Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore and Jim Morrison leap into life on the screen.”

The program chronicles the creation of The Doors six landmark studio albums and follows the band from the corridors of UCLA’s film school, where Manzarek and Morrison originally met, onto the stages of their electrifying sold-out performances – giving time and attention to every one of their groundbreaking, chart topping songs.

Currently in its 24th season, American Masters is a production of THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG – one of America’s most prolific and respected public media providers.

“We’re very excited to bring the story of The Doors to public television, says Susan Lacy, series creator and executive producer of American Masters, a seven-time winner of the Emmy Award for Outstanding Primetime Non-Fiction Series.   “Like the times in which they performed, The Doors were unpredictable and emotionally charged.  Their music, songs such as Break on Through and Light My Fire have stood the test of time, grabbing generation after generation of contemporary music lovers.”

“Tom DiCillo’s When You’re Strange is a meticulously crafted, exhilarating ode to one of music’s greatest ensembles, The Doors,” says Johnny Depp.  “Watching the hypnotic, hitherto, unreleased footage of Jim, John, Ray and Robby, I felt like I experienced it all through their eyes.  Here, Jim has been resurrected to remind us that he is to this very day, one of the most significant frontmen/poets/shaman to ever grace a stage while the band behind him kept the music alive, adding fuel to an already raging ride into history.  As a rock n’ roll documentary, or any kind of documentary for that matter, it simply doesn’t get any better than this.  What an honor to have been involved.  I am as proud of this as anything I have ever done.”

“When I called Johnny and he agreed to narrate the film, I realized we’d found the perfect voice,” says producer Dick Wolf.

The rare cinéma vérité of When You’re Strange allows an intimate view into The Doors musical collaboration and their offstage lives – lives that reflected and defined the psychedelic times in the exciting but turbulent, changing but conflict-ridden America of the Viet Nam War era.  The Doors were fiercely anti-establishment, anti-convention and pushed the proverbial envelope whenever possible – with their language, with their blatant sexuality, with their impulsive displays and, of course, with their music.

Jim Morrison’s haunting poetry and Ray Manzarek’s remarkable flights on the keyboard, backed by Densmore’s jazz beats and Krieiger’s intense guitar, created something that had never been heard before.  The Doors achieved meteoric status as they soared to stardom but the excesses of their lead singer, Jim Morrison, resulted in an equally deep and abrupt crash. Dead at age 27, every question about the truths and myths of the times, about art and addiction, about authority and defiance – about alienation – were embodied in his persona.

When You’re Strange is produced by Wolf Films/Strange Pictures, in association with Rhino Entertainment and released by Abramorama.   Additional credits for the film include producers Peter Jankowski, Dick Wolf, John Beug and Jeff Jampol.  Director/writer is Tom DiCillo (Johnny Suede and Living in Oblivion).  Narrator is Johnny Depp.   Susan Lacy is the series creator and executive producer of American Masters.

The film’s soundtrack, When You’re Strange: Songs from the Motion Picture, is available at all retail outlets and  features newly recorded readings of Jim Morrison’s poetry by Depp, classic studio recordings and rare live performances from The Doors, and interview clips with all four band members.

American Masters is made possible by the support of the National Endowment for the Arts and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  Additional funding for American Masters is provided by Rosalind P. Walter, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Jack Rudin, Elizabeth Rosenthal in memory of Rolf W. Rosenthal, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation, and public television viewers.

To take American Masters beyond the television broadcast and further explore the themes, stories, and personalities of masters past and present, the companion Web site ( offers interviews, essays, photographs, outtakes, and other resources.



New York public media company WNET.ORG is a pioneering provider of television and web content.  The parent of THIRTEEN, WLIW21 and Creative News Group, WNET.ORG brings such acclaimed broadcast series and websites as Worldfocus, Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, Charlie Rose, Wide Angle, Secrets of the Dead, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, Visions, Consuelo Mack WealthTrack, Miffy and Friends, and Cyberchase to national and international audiences.  Through its wide range of channels and platforms, WNET.ORG serves the entire New York City metro area with unique local productions, broadcasts and innovative educational and cultural projects.  In all that it does, WNET.ORG pursues a single, overarching goal – to create media experiences of lasting significance for New York, America and the world.  For more information, visit

About Rhino Entertainment

Based in Burbank, California, Warner Music Group’s Rhino Entertainment was founded in 1978 and is the world’s leading pop culture label. Emphasizing flawless sound quality, bonus tracks, informative liner notes, award-winning creative packaging, an offbeat sense of humor, and a strong social conscience, Rhino continues to set the standard for excellence in the reissue business it pioneered in both the physical and digital worlds.  Rhino is also expanding the definition of what a catalog music company is, as evidenced by the label’s recent name and likeness representation deal with Frank Sinatra and its multi-faceted relationship with Grateful Dead. The vast Rhino catalog of more than 5,000 CDs, videos, and digital exclusive albums features material by Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, The Doors, Chicago, Black Sabbath, John Coltrane, Yes, Alice Cooper, Linda Ronstadt, The Ramones, The Monkees, Carly Simon, Curtis Mayfield, among many others.


About Wolf Films

Wolf Films produces the most successful brand in the history of primetime television, “Law & Order.” Now in its 20th season on NBC, “Law & Order” won the Emmy in 1997 for Outstanding Drama Series and is tied (with “Gunsmoke) as the longest running drama in the history of television. “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” is in its 11th season on NBC and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” is in its 9th season (the series originated on NBC and is now on USA Network). Wolf Films also produced the 2003 Oscar-winning Short Documentary Film “Twin Towers” and produced the critically-acclaimed 2010 theatrical documentary about the Doors “When You’re Strange” which is currently playing in packed houses  throughout the U.S. Wolf Films’ Chairman Dick Wolf and President Peter Jankowski are both producers.