At the Summer 2016 Television Critics Association press tour today, PBS and AMERICAN EXPERIENCE announced that “The Great War,” a six-hour, three-night event, will premiere in April 2017 in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into the war on April 6, 1917. “The Great War” is executive produced by Mark Samels and directed by award-winning filmmakers Stephen Ives, Amanda Pollak and Rob Rapley.
Drawing on the latest scholarship, including unpublished diaries, memoirs and letters, “The Great War” tells the rich and complex story of World War I through the voices of nurses, journalists, aviators and the American troops who came to be known as “doughboys.” The series explores the experiences of African-American and Latino soldiers, suffragists, Native-American “code talkers” and others whose participation in the war to “make the world safe for democracy” has been largely forgotten. “The Great War” also explores how a brilliant PR man bolstered support for the war in a country hesitant to put lives on the line for a foreign conflict; how President Woodrow Wilson steered the nation through three-and-a-half years of neutrality, only to reluctantly lead America into the bloodiest conflict the world had ever seen, thereby transforming the United States into a dominant player on the international stage; and how the ardent patriotism and determination to support America’s crusade for liberty abroad led to one of the most oppressive crackdowns on civil liberties at home in American history. It is also a story of little-known heroism and sacrifice (including the deadliest battle in American history) that would leave more than 53,000 men dead on the battlefield and more than 60,000 dead from disease. American fatalities would come at a critical time in the war, but they would be dwarfed by a cataclysm of violence that would ultimately claim 15 million lives.
“On this centennial anniversary, we’re proud to present this in-depth examination of a truly pivotal event in American history from the perspectives of the people who lived through it,” said Beth Hoppe, Chief Programming Executive and General Manager, General Audience Programming, PBS. “The Great War transformed America and the world, and this series brings that transformation to life through unexpected personal stories.”
“There’s one America before the Great War, and another America after,” said AMERICAN EXPERIENCE Executive Producer Mark Samels. “The war marked the first time that the U.S. stepped onto the world stage and became the pre-eminent world power of the 20th century. It changed not only our role in the world but our role at home. It was a time of stark choices — between pacifism and building up our military, between equal rights for everyone or for only a few. What unfolded was not only extremely important politically, socially and culturally, it was also incredibly dramatic. By examining the war through the lives of individuals — some famous, most forgotten — we hope to have created a film that does justice to this incredibly rich story.”
The broadcast of “The Great War” will be accompanied by a series of screening events and discussions hosted by universities, museums and public television stations around the country.