American Masters

Sturgeon’s law states that “ninety percent of everything is crap”.

Notwithstanding the debatable verity of the revelation, the fact remains quality content is a rarity.

There are a lot of folks putting in the minimum viable effort, appealing to the least common denominator, or trying to pander to popular sentiment.

To make the quest for content less of a burden, consider looking at things that have been proven by their accolades, e.g. recipients of Pulitzer, Nobel, or Peabody awards.

This post is to highlight one such program: PBS’s American Masters. 

PBS American Masters

This information is adapted from the program’s about page:

American Masters, an award-winning biography series, celebrates our arts and culture. Launched in 1986, the series has set the standard for documentary film profiles, accruing widespread critical acclaim. Awards include 72 Emmy nominations and 28 awards — 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series since 1999 and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 12 Peabody Awards; three Grammys; an Oscar; two Producers Guild Awards for Outstanding Producer of Non-Fiction Television; and the 2012 IDA Award for Best Continuing Series. Now in its 30th season on PBS, the series is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET and also seen on the WORLD channel.

The series’ individually crafted films reflect the specific attention deserved by American Masters subjects, including such great talents as Arthur Miller (the series’ first subject), Georgia O’Keeffe, James Baldwin, Diego Rivera, Martha Graham, F. Scott Fitzgerald, I.M. Pei, Leonard Bernstein, Sidney Poitier, Judy Garland, John James Audubon, Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, Johnny Carson, Zora Neale Hurston, Albert Einstein, Rod Serling, Bill T. Jones, Lucille Ball, Paul Simon, Richard Avedon, John Cassavetes, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Gehry, Woody Guthrie, Jimi Hendrix, Edward Curtis, Julia Child, Walter Cronkite, Woody Allen, and Billie Jean King, as well as influential cultural institutions and eras such as the Actor’s Studio, the Algonquin Round Table, the Negro Ensemble Company, the Juilliard School, 60 Minutes, the Joffrey Ballet, and a century of Chinese American cinematic history in Hollywood Chinese.

Praise for the program:

American Masters has produced an exceptional library, bringing unique originality and perspective to illuminate the creative journeys of our most enduring writers, musicians, visual and performing artists, dramatists, filmmakers and those who have left an indelible impression on our cultural landscape. Balancing a broad and diverse cast of characters and artistic approaches, while preserving historical authenticity and intellectual integrity, these portraits reveal the style and substance of each subject. The series entered its 28th season on PBS in 2014 beginning with Salinger — the series’ 200th episode.

One of the most durable and worthwhile jewels in public television’s crown. — TV Worth Watching


When it comes to biography, no one’s doing it better than American Masters. — Wall Street Journal

It’s like the Pulitzer for this business. — Don Hewitt

…one of the greatest cultural storytelling franchises in American life. — The Baltimore Sun

…the kind of PBS program even a die-hard congressional critic of PBS can love. — Variety

Film recommendation:

The film I am most interested in checking out in the near future is Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise. It is highlighted on the Peabody homepage, and the entire film is available for free on PBS’s website. It’s proven to be a great show, premiering to critical acclaim at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, winning the Audience Award at AFI Docs, and being featured at notable film festivals worldwide, including Full Frame, Sheffield, IDFA and Seattle. Altogether, it earned 17 awards on three continents and has been nominated for an NAACP Image Award.