Today is the first of three days of PBS coverage on the Television Critics Association virtual winter press tour. The American publc broadcaster, coming off its 50th season, has packed a lot into today’s agenda, including the usual (but always appreciated) access to President and CEO Paula Kerger.

Much of the rest of today and subsequent sessions Thursday and Friday pertain to upcoming programming I will report on as premiere dates draw near.

One I’ll briefly single out now, however, was this afternoon’s session on Hemingway, a new six-hour documentary series directed by filmmakers and frequent collaborators Ken Burns and Lynn Novick (The Vietnam War). The three-part series is scheduled to premiere April 5, 6 and 7.

Speaking author Ernest Hemingway’s words on the series is actor Jeff Daniels, who was in on the call. Daniels was asked by TCA veteran Mike Hughes to comment on the sparce precision of Hemingway’s prose. Daniels lauded its brevity and simplicity and pledged to cease “using adjectives and adverbs.”

Burns, who may be the most familiar TCA face ever after three decades of steady appearances as a panelist, is pretty good with words himself. He was asked about poaching from his own vast documentary inventory when Hemingway and other projects intersect with past work. Burns described his archive of footage as the “scaffolding we need to errect the various things we do.” He further described the art of documentary making as “entirely subtractive” — meaning he spends as much or maybe more time cutting as compiling.

He also thinks Hemingway may be the most adult film he’s ever done in terms of how far one must go to tolerate the contradictions between artist and man. Still, if he had to get into a car and drive cross country with somebody, Burns would absolutely ride shotgun with Ernie.


“He had a lot of demons,” chimed in Daniels. “Lucky for him he could write.”

Besides this documentary on the famous 20th century author, one of the various other projects Burns is working on is an upcoming four-part series profiling Muhammad Ali. Look for that in September.

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