Pioneers of THIRTEEN: The’80s – Trusted Voice

Air date: 09/10/2013

THIRTEEN Continues to Commemorate 50th Anniversary with a Revisit to the 80s in the Third Episode of Pioneers of THIRTEEN Premiering Tuesday, September 10 at 9:30 p.m. on THIRTEEN


Actress Parker Posey narrates “The ’80s – Trusted Voice,” exploring the third decade of THIRTEEN’s history, notable for its ambitious programming,big-name stars, and the launch of Ken Burns’ career as a filmmaker



In the 1980s, 100 million Americans were tuning into public television every week, and over a third of that primetime programming was being created by New York’s THIRTEEN, the PBS flagship station. THIRTEEN’s programming was original and groundbreaking, introducing many firsts including Style Wars (1983), the first portrait of hip hop culture with a soundtrack featuring music by early rap artist Grandmaster Flash; Longtime Companion (1989) on American Playhouse, the first feature film to deal with the subject of AIDS and its impact on the gay community; the documentary Brooklyn Bridge (1981) which helped to launch the career of now legendary PBS filmmaker Ken Burns; the debut of two of the station’s signature series, American Masters (1986) and Nature (1982);  the premiere of the first films by award-winning directors Jim Jarmusch, Ang Lee, and Spike Lee, and more.  Throughout the decade, THIRTEEN was the bold, innovative, and trusted voice of PBS.

Narrated by actress Parker Posey, whose role in the PBS miniseries Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City (1993) kick-started her career, Pioneers of THIRTEEN: The’80s – Trusted Voice airs Tuesday, September 10, 2013 at 9:30 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 1980s, programs that are now classics in the annals of public television.  Featured interviewees include:

  • Oscar-winning director Ang Lee reminisces about the making of his very first film, Fine Line, which premiered in 1984on THIRTEEN’s Independent Focus, the only venue on American television in the ‘80s to regularly showcase the work of up and coming indie filmmakers. “For me, that was the first encouragement I got. To have my film shown on THIRTEEN was an honor,” says Mr. Lee.
  • Ken Burns discussing how he experimented with zooming in and out on archival photographs, “treating a still photograph the way a feature filmmaker would a scene” and in the process creating his signature style.
  • Jeremy Irons talking about working with a “who’s who of British theater” in Brideshead Revisited, the acclaimed adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novel: Claire Bloom, John Gielgud, and Lord Laurence Olivier
  • Fred Kaufman, a production assistant on Nature in the 1980s and now the series executive producer, tells why Nature was unlike any natural history program previously aired.
  • Susan Lacy, series creator and executive producer of American Masters, recounts the incredible discovery of never-released rehearsal footage of Charlie Chaplin, which became the highlight of the series’ first season in a documentary about Chaplin.
  • Lindsay Law, former head of drama at THIRTEEN, tells how he commissioned Craig Lucas and Norman René to write and direct Longtime Companion for American Playhouse. The film was instrumental in getting other movies and television programs produced about HIV/AIDS.  Law reminisces about other memorable productions on American Playhouse, citing the early performances of Laura Linney (Tales of the City), John Malkovich (True West), Gary Sinise (True West), and Alfre Woodard (For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf)
  • Don Mischer, well-known for directing such live events as the Academy Awards, the Olympics and Superbowl Half Time Shows, describes the early days of shooting dance for television (Baryshnikov by Tharp with dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov and choreographer Twyla Tharp). Savion Glover, who, at age 15, Mischer featured in Gregory Hines’ Tap Dance in America, fondly remembers working with Hines.
At a time when virtually no African Americans were on the air, THIRTEEN hired journalist Tony Brown to be the host of Black Journal which eventually became Tony Brown’s Journal.  The documentary features Brown’s exclusive interviews with President Ronald Reagan, and with Talmadge Hayer, one of the assassins of Malcolm X, as well as a performance by Eubie Blake.   Tony Brown’s Journal stayed on the air for 40 years, making it one of the longest-running public affairs show in public television history.

The MacNeil/Lehrer Report evolved into The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour, the first hour-long primetime news show in the history of television. It also introduced one of the first African-American women correspondents on national television, Charlayne Hunter-Gault.  During the Iranian revolution and hostage crisis in the early 80s, Robert MacNeil was the first American journalist to interview Ayatollah Khomeini. During this period, MacNeil also landed the first major American interview Cuban leader Fidel Castro had given in six years.

The ’80s – Trusted Voice features archival clips of Nam June Paik’s homage to the George Orwell’s novel 1984, Good Morning, Mr. Orwell, a live event hosted by George Plimpton and featuring Laurie Anderson, Merce Cunningham, and other members of the New York avant-garde.

From Wrap Around the World, showcasing the talents of comedian Al Franken and singer David Bowie, and The Lathe of Heaven, THIRTEEN’s first made-for-TV science fiction film; to Bill Moyers’ captivating six-part interview series Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, and The Times of Harvey Milk, considered a milestone in the gay rights movement; THIRTEEN consistently presented programming that was thought-provoking and compelling.

The ’80s – Trusted Voice is the third episode of a four-part documentary series, Pioneers of THIRTEEN, celebrating THIRTEEN’s 50th anniversary. The fourth and final episode, The ’90s and Beyond – Changing Landscape, will be broadcast later this year. The first episode, The ’60s – Experimental Days, aired September 2012 and the second episode, The ’70s – Bold and Fearless, aired January 2013, and both 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.



About WNET
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, Need to Know, 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, NJ Today 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.