PBS scheduling U.K. hits, U.S. history for fall lineup

By Lynn Elber

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, May 22 2012 4:10 p.m. MDT

LOS ANGELES — PBS's fall schedule has a definite British accent, courtesy of the returning drama "Upstairs Downstairs" and newcomer "Call the Midwife."

The prominence of dramas imported from the U.K. is no surprise given PBS' success with "Downton Abbey," "Sherlock" and season one of "Upstairs Downstairs."

"Call the Midwife," a six-part series set in 1950s London that was a hit in Britain, will kick off PBS' new season at 7 p.m. MDT Sunday, Sept. 30, it was announced last week. Starting Oct. 7, "Midwife" will be followed by sophomore "Upstairs Downstairs" airing as part of the "Masterpiece Classic" showcase.

Pairing the dramas "is really part of our strategy to build around strong series that audiences know and love, like 'Masterpiece' and 'Antiques Roadshow,' and add new shows," said John Wilson, PBS' programming chief.

There's plenty of Americana as well on public television's fall schedule, including general election coverage and documentaries on two devastating chapters of U.S. history.

"The Dust Bowl," a two-part, four-hour documentary from Ken Burns airing Nov. 18-19, details the 1930s environmental disaster that unleashed deadly dust storms and ravaged Great Plains farmlands.

Ric Burns, the other prominent member of the filmmaking family, has an "American Experience" documentary airing Sept. 18, "Death and the Civil War," that explores the conflict's deep social impact. The film will show on the 150th anniversary of Antietam, considered the bloodiest day of battle on U.S. soil.

Other upcoming PBS programs include "Broadway or Bust," a documentary about top high school musical performers; "American Masters" films on writer Carl Sandburg and producer David Geffen; and "Half the Sky," about people battling female oppression around the world.

"Independent Lens" will move to Mondays beginning Oct. 29, to be followed there by "POV" when that film series begins its 2013 season. The "PBS Arts" programs airing Friday nights will include the four-part series "Voces," focusing on Hispanic arts, and "Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance."

PBS' scheduling announcements coincided with the broadcasting networks' "upfront week," in which new programs are presented in New York to Madison Avenue. PBS is funded by member stations, donors and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

"Downton Abbey," which drew a total of 17 million viewers to make it the most-watched "Masterpiece" miniseries on record, is in production on season three. PBS has yet to announce an air date for the drama about landed gentry and their servants, but it's expected to return in January 2013.

Wednesday night on TV

NBA playoffs: Celtics at 76ers (6 p.m., ESPN); Thunder at Lakers (8:30 p.m., ESPN)

The Big Bang Theory (7 p.m., Ch. 2): Sheldon tries to face his fear of birds.

The Middle (7 p.m., Ch. 4): Mike's brother, Rusty, invites the Hecks to his wedding but lists their address as the location of the ceremony.

Betty White's Off Their Rockers (7 and 7:30 p.m., Ch. 5): Pranks include offering free back rubs to passers-by

American Idol (7 p.m., Ch. 13): The winner is announced.

Modern Family (8 p.m., Ch. 4): Jay and Manny baby-sit Lily

Revenge (9 p.m., Ch. 4): Emily intends to finally follow through with her plan for revenge.

Law & Order: SVU (9 p.m., Ch. 5): The team must proceed with caution when an underage escort is found dead.

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