Pioneers of THIRTEEN: The ‘90s and Beyond – Changing Landscape

Air date: 12/19/2013

Pioneers of THIRTEEN Concludes Its Comprehensive 50th Anniversary Retrospective of America’s Most Watched Public Television Station, Premiering on Thursday, December 19 at 9 p.m. on THIRTEEN

Tony Award-winning actor Matthew Broderick narrates “The ‘90s and Beyond – Changing Landscape,” exploring the fourth and fifth decade of THIRTEEN’s history, through rarely-seen clips and interviews with actors, directors, producers, journalists and writers, from the ’90s to present day


By the early 1990s, New York’s THIRTEEN, the PBS flagship station, was producing and filling public television screens across the country with award-winning programming such as Charlie Rose, Nature, American Masters, and Great Performances. As the cable and satellite revolution gave way to the digital and internet revolution, THIRTEEN embraced 21st century technology and continued to innovate, proving that public television has ever more value in today’s changing media landscape.

Narrated by Tony award-winning stage and screen actor Matthew Broderick, who has leant his voice to several of the station’s programs, Pioneers of THIRTEEN: The ‘90s and Beyond – Changing Landscape premieres Thursday, December 19, 2013 at 9:00 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

Through rarely-seen clips and interviews with actors, directors, producers, journalists, and writers, the 90-minute documentary recounts the highlights of the 1990s to the present day, programs that exemplify how THIRTEEN was on the cutting edge of innovation.  Segments include:

  • American Masters profiles of musical legends Paul Simon and Marvin Gaye, and of pop culture icon Johnny Carson.
  • THIRTEEN’s launch of the late-night talk show Charlie Rose, whose famed wooden table has hosted over 20 years of interviews with the leading thinkers of our time.  “Public television and Channel THIRTEEN have no peer. To be able to do good work, to explore to the highest standards, I could only do that here,” says Rose.
  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault’s exclusive interview with Nelson Mandela within days of his prison release in 1990 for The MacNeil/Lehrer NewshourThe Los Angeles Times called Hunter-Gault’s South Africa coverage more “in depth” and “on-the-scene” than that of any other journalist.
  • The launch of THIRTEEN’s website in the mid-90s, one of the very first television websites in the world.
  • Beth Hoppe, now PBS’s chief programming executive, reminiscing about three families’ immersion into homestead life in 1880s Montana on Frontier House, THIRTEEN’s smart and entertaining take on what would later become known as reality TV.
  • Filmmaker Jeff Folmsbee recounting the creative process of artists ranging from a pinhole camera photographer to Burning Man participants in the whimsical magazine program Egg: The Arts Show.
  • THIRTEEN introducing a different way to watch new music with In the Spotlight, a program aimed at drawing the “MTV Generation” back to public television with rock concerts featuring Sade, Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, and a rare behind-the-scenes documentary profile of Billy Joel.
  •  “The Orchestra,” one of the very first high-definition video art pieces, created by award-winning video artist Zbig Rybczynski.
    • Nature’s early transition to high-definition technology to innovate the look of one of the most watched documentary series on public television.
    • Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. sharing cutting-edge DNA analysis of the genealogy of famous Americans Chris Rock, Tina Turner, and Don Cheadle in African American Lives.
    • Journalist Bill Moyers exploring the nature of drug addiction in a unique and unprecedented 5-part series, Moyers on Addiction: Close to Home.
    • THIRTEEN creating newsmagazine In the Life, the first national TV show focused on LGBT issues, which quickly became one of the most well regarded sources of LGBT journalism in America for 20 years.
    • Filmmaker Ric Burns, brother of Ken Burns, crediting public television for the ability to create his sweeping eight-part series about the history of New York City, New York: A Documentary Film.  Burns explains, “THIRTEEN/WNET has a very special mission, which is to be New York and therefore be America. The entire country is dependent upon the television that comes out of this extraordinary station.”
      • THIRTEEN’s unparalleled community outreach during and after the tragedies of the 9/11 terror attack.
      • Abigail Disney, co-executive producer of Women, War and Peace, detailing the importance of covering war from women’s perspective, with a profile of Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.
      • Alan Gilbert, New York Philharmonic music director explains, “One of the things that I admire about THIRTEEN is its commitment to presenting the arts without compromise.”  The station continues this on-going commitment to the arts with the longest running performing arts series on television, Great Performances.
      • Recently celebrating its 40th anniversary season Great Performances continues to spotlight world-famous performers. “In my lifetime, Channel THIRTEEN and PBS have really been the only place that one could go for classical music, and for opera in particular,” explains award-winning soprano Renée Fleming. “And I’m just incredibly grateful that there’s still a place to go for this kind of programming.”
      • THIRTEEN entering unchartered technological territory with the recent launch of tablet apps and augmented reality games for Cyberchase, the only show on television devoted to mathematics for school-aged kids.


Created in 1962, THIRTEEN has been an innovator since its earliest days.  But the station continues to stay a step ahead of the changing media landscape.  In recent years, THIRTEEN merged with its one-time rival Long Island’s WLIW21 and stepped in to save New Jersey’s public television station from going dark.  WNET’s signal now reaches over 10 million households across four states and the station creates a quarter of all programming for PBS nationwide.

In 2010, THIRTEEN opened a new state-of-the-art studio at Lincoln Center, equipped with robotic cameras and the latest LED technology.  The studio has allowed the station to continue to deliver on its commitment to presenting topics and issues most important to the New York metro area community with local programs including, MetroFocus, Reel 13 and NYC-ARTS.

More recently, THIRTEEN has been trying to bring more humor into its live pledge drives and promotional campaigns, including #TVGoneWrong, a fake reality TV campaign designed to remind viewers that THIRTEEN is the place to find smart, interesting and quality programming.

The ’90s and Beyond – Changing Landscape is the fourth and final episode of a four-part documentary series, Pioneers of THIRTEEN, celebrating THIRTEEN’s 50th anniversary. The first episode, The ’60s – Experimental Days, aired September 2012 and was hosted by actress Sarah Jessica Parker, the second episode, The ’70s – Bold and Fearless, aired January 2013 and was narrated by actress Meryl Streep, and the third episode, The ‘80’s – Trusted Voice, aired September 2013 and was narrated by actress Parker Posey, and all three are available for online streaming at

Pioneers of THIRTEEN is a production of THIRTEEN Productions LLC in association with WNET. WNET is the parent company of public television stations THIRTEEN and WLIW21 and operator of NJTV. Julie Anderson is executive producer.  Charlotte Mangin and Denise A. Greene are producers. Sue Ding is associate producer.

Funding for Pioneers of THIRTEEN is provided by Rosalind P. Walter and the members of THIRTEEN.



In 2013, WNET is celebrating the 50th Anniversary of THIRTEEN, New York’s flagship public media provider. As the parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21 and operator of NJTV, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to over 5 million viewers each week. WNET produces and presents such acclaimed PBS series as Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend, Charlie Rose and a range of documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings available on air and online. Pioneers in educational programming, WNET has created such groundbreaking series as Get the Math, Oh Noah! and Cyberchase and provides tools for educators that bring compelling content to life in the classroom and at home. WNET highlights the tri-state’s unique culture and diverse communities through NYC-ARTS, Reel 13, NJTV News with Mike Schneider and MetroFocus, the multi-platform news magazine focusing on the New York region. WNET is also a leader in connecting with viewers on emerging platforms, including the THIRTEEN Explore iPad App where users can stream PBS content for free.


Sorry, photography is no longer in rights for the web. Please contact Thirteen's Communications Department at 212.560.3022.