The Presidents Documentary Series on PBS

Elisa Lichtenbaum | August 2, 2016

“ONCE A PRESIDENT gets to The White House, the only audience that is left that really matters is history,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning author and presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.

From August 8 through 22, THIRTEEN revisits the stories of six 20th century presidents who have shaped our nation’s history with a special encore broadcast of select films from American Experience’s Peabody Award-winning series The Presidents.

The presidents featured in these compelling biographies — John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W.Bush — led the country through some of the most turbulent moments in our history and dealt with many of the same issues we face today: war, poverty, healthcare, immigration, and education.

Insights and commentary from Goodwin and other leading presidential historians, as well as interviews with world leaders, family members, and political insiders, reveal how their presidencies were shaped by the times in which they governed, as well as their personalities and character.

Film previews and air dates are below, or see our schedule. Films are also streaming on our Presidents in Review page.

John F. Kennedy

JFK (Monday, August 8 and Tuesday, August 9, 9 pm) offers a fresh assessment of John F. Kennedy, his accomplishments, and his unfulfilled promise,featuring interviews with Kennedy family members and historians including Robert Dallek, Robert Caro, and Evan Thomas.

Lyndon B. Johnson

LBJ (Wednesday, August 10, 8 pm and 10 pm) focuses on JFK’s successor who put into motion many of the programs that continue to shape American life today—but Lyndon Baines Johnson’s presidency has been overshadowed by his failure to end
the war in Vietnam.

Richard Nixon

American Experience: NixonRichard Nixon’s legacy includes both ending America’s involvement in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal. American Experience: Nixon (Friday, August 12, 9 pm) explores the strengths and weaknesses that propelled Nixon to the presidency and then brought him down.

Jimmy Carter

The story of Jimmy Carter (Monday, August 15, 9 pm) is one of the greatest dramas in American politics. Overwhelmingly voted out of office in a humiliating defeat in 1980, over the following decades, he became one of the most admired statesmen and humanitarians in America and the world.


Reagan (Tuesday, August 16 and Wednesday, August 17, 9 pm) explores the life of the actor, governor, and president who saw America as “a shining city on a hill.” He is recalled by wife Nancy Reagan, his children, his inner political circle, and counterparts on the world stage, including Mikhail Gorbachev.

George H. W. Bush

With unparalleled access to figures in Bush’s private and public life, George H. W. Bush (Monday, August 22, 9 pm) explores the life of a man who became a pivotal player during a critical moment in American and world history. Interviews include Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, and more.

More on Presidents

For full episodes and clips related to The Presidents, see THIRTEEN’s special The Presidents in Review page, which also includes additional streaming documentaries on other presidents, plus a special section on outgoing current U.S. President Barack Obama.