Ken Burns defends national park series

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PASADENA, Calif. -- Ken Burns' latest PBS opus -- this one clocking in at 12 hours -- arrives this fall with "The National Parks: America's Best Idea" (Sept. 27-Oct. 2, WQED), a history of the national park system that begins in 1851 and ends in 1980.

A question during Burns' press conference for the film got a big laugh but also made a worthwhile point about the expansive nature of Burns' films: "If someone has 12 hours, do you suggest they go to the Grand Canyon or watch your film?"

Burns defended the film, although not its length, saying that the national parks have always benefited from art about the parks, whether it was oil paintings by famous artists or images captured by well-known photographers.

"We know there is, in that Platonic sense of the shadow of the cave, the power of the removed art that might be the galvanic thing that makes action happen," Burns said. "But there's nothing more important than spending 12 hours at the Grand Canyon and not with our film."

He said the value of the film comes if it gets people off their couches and out of their homes to actually visit a park.

Online TV chat

This week, Philadelphia Inquirer television critic Jonathan Storm and I will answer TV questions in two online chats.

Visit at 11 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday to type in your questions about the new TV season, returning shows or anything TV-related. We'll type back our responses.

"What we know, particularly in this virtual world, is that people are distracted," Burns said. "Our lives have a kind of compelling momentum to them that is increasingly harder to distract. So maybe you do require ... to have a documentary film on public television reminding people of the possibilities."

Burns also announced an update to his sprawling "Baseball" documentary, a 10th "inning" covering the sport since 1992, may be done next year.

'Sesame' reaches 40

PBS's "Sesame Street" will celebrate its 40th anniversary with a special season premiere episode on 11-10-09 (nice countdown date). Alas, no prime-time retrospective special will air on PBS but a 40th anniversary DVD retrospective will be released. The new season will come with some updates to the format, including CGI-animated segments and a Muppet host.

The 40th season will include a "Mad Men" parody, but there will be no smoking or drinking in that spoof, just an emphasis on the emotion in the AMC show's title.

TCA Award winners

This year's 25th annual TCA Awards finally recognized a CBS show and a sci-fi series, neither of which typically get a lot of love.

Chelsea Handler (E!'s "Chelsea Lately") opened the show, thanking "Mad Men" for showing "a workplace with bars and for making workplaces safe for sexual harassment."

The entire cast of "Breaking Bad" showed up to support star Bryan Cranston for his win.

"I want to be sincere. I want to," Cranston said, "I just can't."

Eventually, he was, quoting Paul Newman from an Oscar speech about how roles are not acted, they are written, and crediting the "Bad" writers with his win and by extension, TV critics. "Without your written words and critiques for our show, I truly don't know if 'Breaking Bad' would have garnered enough attention to have our second year, let alone our third year," Cranston said. "So I want to dedicate this award to you, you are truly the architects of dreams and I thank you so much."

Jim Parsons ("The Big Bang Theory"), humble as ever, accepted his award saying, "I have this horrible fear that I'm expected to be funny up here and that will only serve you to notice how much of my career depends on the writers."

In a brief history of the TCA, past TCA president Ed Bark noted the trying times currently facing the profession, saying, "The art of television criticism, and we like to think of it as that, seems to be something of an endangered species. Reviewers of other performing arts are also being deemed expendable. But know this, television, whether you're watching it in an old-school living room or on a state-of-the-art Web site, remains by far the most popular of our entertainment mediums."

Here's the complete list of TCA Award winners:

Individual achievement in comedy: Jim Parsons, "The Big Bang Theory" (CBS).

Individual achievement in drama: Bryan Cranston, "Breaking Bad" (AMC).

Best new program: "True Blood" (HBO).

Best comedy: "The Big Bang Theory" (CBS).

Best drama: "Mad Men" (AMC).

Best news & information: "The Alzheimer's Project" (HBO).

Best movie: "Grey Gardens" (HBO).

Best children's programming: "Yo Gabba Gabba" (Nick).

Program of the year: "Battlestar Galactica" (Sci Fi Channel).

Career achievement: Betty White.

Heritage Award: "ER" (NBC).

'NCIS: L.A.' gets new look

Instead of the high-tech warehouse seen in the backdoor pilot for "NCIS: Los Angeles" that aired this past spring, the set looks a bit like the old "Melrose Place" Spanish-style apartment complex.

Actually, it's supposed to be an old mission the team moved into after the Chris O'Donnell character was shot at the end of the spring "NCIS" episode and the security of the warehouse was compromised. "NCIS: L.A." begins four months later and O'Donnell's character survived with Linda Hunt joining the team.

Original "NCIS" cast member Pauley Perrette will guest star in an early episode of "NCIS: LA."

Channel surfing

The original "Futurama" voice cast will be back for new episodes after a contract dispute almost derailed those prospects. ... Marie Osmond's daytime talk show, due to debut in the fall, has been put on hold, reportedly due to the economic impact on the local ad market.

Post-Gazette TV editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour. Follow his updates throughout the day in Tuned In Journal blog. You can reach him at 412-263-1112 or .


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