Favorite moments from Day 1 of TCA Winter Press Tour

PBS kicked off the 2012 Television Critics Association (TCA) Winter Press Tour with a nice mix of information and entertainment. Here are my favorite moments from Day 1:

1. The B-52’s concert — Even as they celebrate their 35th anniversary as a band this year, the Athens, Ga., band is looking and sounding as great as ever (Kate Pierson especially has still got it going on). Performing for the critics in support of their March PBS special The B-52’s With the Wild Crowd!, the group rocked about an hour’s worth of old and new hits (even compelling several critics to get up and dance) before sitting down to a cool Q&A session that touched on their formation, inspirations and more.

2. American Experience: “The Amish” — We saw a 15-minute preview of this new American Experience film, premiering Feb. 28, and just that preview was powerful stuff. It took a long time for filmmakers to gain entry into the Amish community (Amish do not wish to be photographed or filmed), so it took some creativity for producers to assemble this project using mainly audio clips of Amish people telling their stories. But it’s effective. The clip we saw recounted the horrific 2006 events when a non-Amish man entered an Amish schoolhouse and shot 10 girls, killing five of them before taking his own life. One of the voices we hear is from a mother of one of the murdered girls. Real insight into the Amish mind comes when she and others express forgiveness for the killer (several Amish even went to the man’s funeral). “The Amish” looks to be another feather in the cap for the consistently excellent American Experience.

3. Slavery By Another Name — This strong documentary, directed by Sam Pollard and based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Douglas Blackmon, was presented at a panel today. It looks at the concept of “neoslavery” — in which African Americans in the South, in the decades after the Emancipation Proclamation, were still subjected to forms of forced servitude. This system of labor practices and laws, which criminalized everyday behavior, effectively created a new form of slavery in the South that lasted well into the 20th century. It’s a shocking and fascinating story that has implications that reach even into the modern era. I’ll be interviewing Blackmon tomorrow for more on the documentary, which premieres Feb. 13 on PBS, and which is also a selection at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

4. Michael Feinstein’s Cabaret Performance — To hype the second season of his American Songbook series, returning Feb. 3, musician Feinstein was on hand with a Steinway to answer questions, and also to entertain. With wine and beer flowing, an otherwise drab hotel ballroom, with the right mood lighting, was turned into a cabaret atmosphere, with Feinstein tickling the ivories and singing songs in between questions, often educating in addition to performing (and sometimes doing both at once) as he touched on topics from “soundies” (1940s versions of music videos) to the Gershwins to Hugh Hefner. Feinstein is a unique talent, and very good at explaining things and making learning about the music that he obviously has much passion for fun.

5. Jeff Greenfield/PBS Election Coverage — Although I’ve already had election overkill and am not necessarily looking to this year’s wall-to-wall coverage of the presidential race, PBS’ presentation of how its various news programs will be covering the election was memorable for Need to Know‘s Jeff Greenfield’s openness, calling things as he sees them. Talking about yesterday’s Iowa caucuses, Greenfield said that he hates them because “they’re fraudulent. They’re undemocratic.” He also joked that as a person who used to cover the caucuses in winter, he’d like the process to start out in Hawaii instead.

There should be more memorable moments as PBS continues its Press Tour tomorrow. On tap: the acclaimed documentary The Interrupters (airing as part of Frontline), Independent Lens‘ Black History Month films, the second season of Sherlock, a preview of Ken Burns’ The Dust Bowl, an evening performance by Tony Bennett, and a cute koala in the house!


Photos courtesy of Rahoul Ghose/PBS