Monday, February 9, 2009

Lincoln on TV

In the coming week, a number of television programs will celebrate Abraham Lincoln, during this week of the bicentennial of his birth. Interestingly, several of these programs focus more on Lincoln's death than his life. Here's a list of the lineup by television network -- C-SPAN, PBS, The History Channel, and even the National Geographic Channel.


As part of their partnership with the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, C-SPAN is carrying "Bicentennial Celebration of Abraham Lincoln's Birthday: A Congressional Tribute" Live on Thursday, February 12. The program, scheduled to begin at 11:30 (EST), is a joint session of congress meeting in Statuary Hall in the US Capitol (which was the House chamber when Lincoln served his single term in the House of Representatives). Ray LaHood, now Secretary of Transportation and a co-chair of the Bicentennial Commission, will serve as Master of Ceremonies, and Doris Kearns Goodwin and Richard Norton Smith are scheduled to speak.

At the moment, C-SPAN is not scheduled to cover any other bicentennial events, but I expect that they will add a couple more on one of their networks. There are several events to choose from, but I think that the annual banquet of the Abraham Lincoln Association, which President Barack Obama is scheduled to attend, is most likely. The dinner begins on February 12 at 7:00 (local time). Updates on the C-SPAN schedule may be seen either on the specific C-SPAN Lincoln site or the C-SPAN schedule site.


"American Experience," the fine documentary series, offers a new 90-minute Lincoln program, "The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln." I imagine that this program is inspired by the recent bestselling account of the aftermath of the assassination: Manhunt by James L. Swanson. Glancing at the transcript, already available online, it looks like several big-name Lincon historians are interviewed in addition to Swanson -- Harold Holzer, David Bright, Edward Steers, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Joshua Wolf Shenk, James McPherson, Allen Guelzo, and others. The program is scheduled to premiere on many PBS stations on Monday, February 9. Here is a link to the program's website.

Some PBS stations nationally will carry a Lincoln program created by the PBS affiliate at the University of Illinois, WILL. "Lincoln: Prelude to the Presidency," a one-hour program, focuses on Lincoln's Springfield years, 1837-1860. It has reenactments and interviews with experts, including Doris Kearns Goodwin. The program premieres on WILL Monday, February 9 and may be on other PBS stations after that. Here is a link to the program's website.

Nationally, PBS will offer "Looking for Lincoln," a two-hour documentary, on Wednesday, February 11. This documentary, narrated by Henry Louis Gates, focuses on the legend and legacy of Lincoln, from the political ripples from Lincoln's presidential decisions to the growing trade of Lincoln collectors. The program features interviews with two of Lincoln's successors as president, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and numerous scholars, including Doris Kearns Goodwin (she's everywhere), Harold Holzer, Drew Gilpin Faust, David Herbert Donald, David Blight, Allen Guelzo, and Joshua Wolf Shenk. Here is the link to the program's website.

The History Channel

As part of THC Classroom, which allows teachers to record programs for use in their classroom, the History Channel is rebroadcasting "Lincoln: The Untold Stories," a two-part special on William Herndon's interviews after Lincoln's death with people who knew Lincoln, the biography Herndon wrote (with a co-writer) based on those interviews, and the recent scholarship on those interviews by Douglas Wilson and Rodney Davis. The program will air early on Wednesday, February 11 and Thursday, February 12.

On Lincoln's birthday itself, the History Channel will repeat several Lincoln programs, including the three-hour documentary "Lincoln," and two one-hour programs, "Investigating History: Lincoln, Man or Myth" and "Conspiracy: Lincoln's Assassination." The long program covers all of Lincoln's life, but focuses on trying to get inside Lincoln's head, perhaps heavily influenced by Joshua Wolf Shenk's then-recent book on Lincoln's Melancholy.

On Monday, February 16, the History Channel premieres a new two-hour documentary on the weird saga of Lincoln's body after his death. No doubt, the documentary is based on the recent book of the same title by Thomas J. Craughwell. The story, rooted in an 1876 attempt to steal Lincoln's body from his Springfield tomb, is unbelievably bizarre and true.

In addition to these programs, it should be noted that the History Channel is co-sponsoring with the Bicentennial Commission an online educational program about Lincoln on Lincoln's birthday. Featuring Harold Holzer, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Matthew Pinsker, the "teach-in" is geared towards middle and high school students. It begins at 1:30 (EST) and will be available here.

The National Geographic Channel

On Thursday, February 12 National Geographic will replay its recent one-hour special "The Hunt for Lincoln's Assassin," which also chronicles the post-assassination saga.

On Saturday, February 14 National Geographic will premiere the two-hour version of "The Real Abraham Lincoln," a program which has already been shown in a one-hour format -- and which I previously reviewed on Lincolniana. I suppose that this is some sort of odd Valentine's Day counter-programming.

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