Pioneers of THIRTEEN

Air date: 09/17/2012


The series explores the station’s contributions to drama, music, historic perspective, and key events; Premieres Monday, September 17 at 8 pm on THIRTEEN

Programs feature rarely seen footage unearthed from the WNET archives

In honor of THIRTEEN’s 50th anniversary on September 16, 2012, the flagship station of PBS is kicking off a year-long celebration the week of September 17-23, 2012 with the premiere of Pioneers of THIRTEEN, a four-part documentary chronicling the growth and breadth of the station’s programming over 50 years.

Episode one of Pioneers of THIRTEEN, The ’60s – Experimental Days, will air Monday, September 17, from 8:00-9:00 pm on THIRTEEN.  The remaining three episodes, The ’70s – Bold and Fearless, The ’80s – Trusted Voice and The ’90s and Beyond – Changing Landscape will be broadcast later in the year, date: TBD.

Pioneers of THIRTEEN features rarely seen clips of the artistic and groundbreaking programming unearthed from the WNET archives, as well as first-hand stories from the people who created the inspiring programs over 50 years. Each episode tells the story of a decade, beginning with the launch, September 16, 1962, when Edward R. Murrow, host of the inaugural broadcast, introduced Channel 13/WNDT – “New Dimensions in Television,” which would later evolve into WNET. Dustin Hoffman and Martin Sheen are seen at the nascent stages of their careers.


Episode one: The ’60s – Experimental Days


In 1961, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Newton N. Minow, challenges TV producers to do a better job, calling TV programming a “vast wasteland.” A year later, President John F. Kennedy signs the Educational Television Facilities Act and public television is born. In episode one, a pioneering group of producers and directors at WNET, then called WNDT – “New Dimensions in Television,” broadcast shows with chef Julia Child and famed cellist Pablo Casals, and Black Journal, created by independent producer Al Perlmutter, which examines for the first time on television black issues, music, culture, and politics.


Pop artist and cultural icon Andy Warhol introduces a new band called the Velvet Underground and The Doors play a concert in a TV studio. Documentary filmmaking brothers Albert and David Maysles follow Truman Capote in a black and white cinéma vérité film shot in 1966, just after the release and fame of his non-fiction novel In Cold Blood. In a precursor to Great Performances, the station begins to experiment with televising stage plays and films the play Journey of the Fifth Horse in 1966, starring a young Dustin Hoffman, a year before his breakthrough role in The Graduate. A new children’s series called Sesame Street which challenged the norm by combining fantasy and reality to teach children is broadcast in 1969.

Featured clips include:      

•Aaron Copland, Music in the 20s
Black Journal, William Greaves, executive producer and co-host
Black Journal, Kathleen Cleaver
Black Journal featuring: Jim Brown, Fannie Lou Hamer, Robert Johnson (Jet Magazine), Dr. Alvin Poussaint, Richard Moore (historian), Andrew Young, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Reverend Jesse Jackson, and Huey P. Newton
•Bill Cosby, Kaleidoscope
Court of Reason, weekly public affairs program
Critique, hosted by rock journalist Richard Goldstein
oInterview with The Doors
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Special, Public Broadcasting Laboratory (PBL)
oDuring the lead up to the People’s March – a THIRTEEN photographer, Joseph Louw, was on the scene when Dr. King was assassinated and took the iconic photograph on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN
oInterview with photographer Joseph Louw
Free Time, featuring John Lennon and Yoko Ono in a remarkable art performance
•Glenn Gould, Public Broadcasting Laboratory
The History of the Negro People: The Negro and The South
oOssie Davis
Journey of the Fifth Horse, featuring Dustin Hoffman
Jazz Casual
oCarmen McRae
oVince Guaraldi, pianist, and Bola Sete, guitarist
oB.B. King, King of the Blues
oMel Tormé
Margaret Mead’s New Guinea Journal, Writer/Producer Craig Gilbert
•Muhammad Ali, A Conversation with Muhammad Ali
•NET Festival, The Sound of Soul
oNina Simone performing “Mississippi Goddam” and her response to civil rights violence
•Bob Newhart’s satirical look at a talk show
•Opening cartoon by John Hubley, Academy Award-winning animator (creator of cartoon character Mister Magoo)
•PBL: Who’s Afraid of the Avant-Garde?
oAllen Ginsberg
oCecil Taylor
oMerce Cunningham
Sesame Street
oJames Earl Jones
Sleep of Prisoners, featuring Jon Voight, 12 years before his Academy Award win for Coming Home
Take This Hammer, James Baldwin
Ten Blocks on the Camino Real featuring Martin Sheen
USA: Artists
oFeaturing Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground with lead singer Lou Reed
USA: Dance
oFeaturing the New York City Ballet and its artistic director, George Balanchine
USA: The Novel
oFeaturing Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita
oFeaturing Truman Capote
USA: Photography
oFeaturing Ansel Adams
oFeaturing Dorothea Lange
USA: Poetry
oFeaturing Frank O’Hara
What Harvest for the Reaper?, Writer/Producer/Director Morton Silverstein
•Frederick Wiseman, legendary filmmaker, featuring clips from
oTiticut Follies (Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane)
oLaw and Order (Kansas City Police Department)
oHospital (New York’s Metropolitan Hospital)

Featured interviews include:

  • Stephen Battaglio, television historian & author
  • Ward Chamberlin, vice  president, NET 1962-1971
  • Joan Ganz Cooney, staff producer, NET, and originator of Sesame Street
  • Richard Heffner, founding general manager, WNDT
  • Herb Homes, director of production/labor relations, NET, 1965—2006
  • James Earl Jones, Oscar-nominated actor
  • Robert Kotlowitz, senior vp for programming, WNET, 1971—1990
  • Jessie Maple, independent filmmaker
  • Bill Moyers, broadcast journalist
  • Al Perlmutter, independent producer
  • Sam Pollard, independent filmmaker
  • Morton Silverstein, writer/producer/director, What Harvest for the Reaper?
  • Michael Winship, writer & publicist, WNET, 1974—1979
  • Jac Venza, culture & arts executive producer, NET, 1962—2005


Pioneers of THIRTEEN is a production of THIRTEEN for WNET.  WNET is the parent company of public television stations THIRTEEN and WLIW21 and operator of NJTV. Julie Anderson is executive producer.  Denise Green and Charlotte Mangin are producers. Sue Ding is associate producer.

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

For more information about THIRTEEN’s 50th anniversary visit:




About WNET

In 2012, 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 the new online newsmagazine MetroFocus.



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Pioneers of THIRTEEN logo.

Pioneers of THIRTEEN: The '60s The Experimental Days premieres on September 17.

Yoko Ono in Pioneers of THIRTEEN.

Andy Warhol in Pioneers of THIRTEEN.

Bill Cosby in Pioneers of THIRTEEN.

Edward R. Murrow in Pioneers of THIRTEEN.

John Lennon in Pioneers of THIRTEEN.

Julia Child in Pioneers of THIRTEEN.

The iconic photograph on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN taken by a THIRTEEN photographer, Joseph Louw, who was on the scene when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

Muhammad Ali in Pioneers of THIRTEEN.

Truman Capote in Pioneers of THIRTEEN.