PBS launches 'The Vietnam War' documentary series

Posted 9/15/17

By Kevin McDonough

PBS revisits a subject some can never forget and many choose not to remember. Directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, "The Vietnam War" (8 p.m. Sunday, TV-MA, check local listings) will spend 18 hours over two weeks recalling …

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PBS launches 'The Vietnam War' documentary series


By Kevin McDonough

PBS revisits a subject some can never forget and many choose not to remember. Directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, "The Vietnam War" (8 p.m. Sunday, TV-MA, check local listings) will spend 18 hours over two weeks recalling one of the most divisive periods of American history.

"Vietnam" will air nightly through Thursday, Sept. 21, and return next Sunday to air through Thursday, Sept. 28. Episodes will repeat on the night they air and will be available to stream on PBS.org and PBS apps for platforms including iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast.

Like many other Burns efforts, "Vietnam" is long, slow and deliberate, offering many voices and perspectives, most notably, Vietnamese soldiers and citizens on both sides of the war. It includes a wealth of period newsreel and television footage from a conflict that came to be known as "the living room war." It also employs the cinematic, pan-and-scan uses of still photography that has become a signature of Burns' efforts.

Like every such series since "The Civil War," this survey history of the Vietnam War will make use of period music, more than 120 songs from that era as well as an original soundtrack composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross ("The Social Network").

Part one, "Deja Vu," takes the war all the way back to the 19th-century French occupation of Indochina and subsequent efforts of the Vietnamese to liberate themselves from European occupation and rule. It profiles Ho Chi Minh's rise as a nationalist leader as well as his embrace of communism.

The United States' interests and perceptions collided with Vietnam's as early as 1945 when Ho and other leaders cited the American Declaration of Independence in their efforts to rid Vietnam of the French. While some OSS and CIA operatives saw an opportunity to work with insurgent nationalists, the Truman administration ultimately began to back and bankroll the French, linking their efforts to an international war with communism. Thus began a road that claimed the lives of 58,000 American soldiers and untold millions of Vietnamese combatants and civilians.

The episode shows how France's efforts offered eerie parallels to America's later experiences in Vietnam. These include divided popular perceptions of the war and overly optimistic, deceptive declarations from military and government experts. We learn here that the phrase "the light at the end of the tunnel" was first uttered in French.

• Showtime dusts off the 1987 concert film "Prince: Sign O' the Times" (9 p.m. Saturday), directed by the musician himself. The film has not aired on television in more than a decade and captures Prince as he was away from his band, The Revolution. The film features footage from European tour venues and the musician's own Paisley Park Studios. It has never been released on DVD in the U.S.

Former Village Voice rock critic Robert Christgau ranks "Sign" among the best concert documentaries. It includes performances of the title track as well as "U Got the Look" (with Sheena Easton), "If I Was Your Girlfriend," "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" and "Little Red Corvette."

• A woman takes a weekend getaway at an island retreat only to find nine other guests with mysterious pasts in the 2017 thriller "Ten: Murder Island" (8 p.m. Saturday, Lifetime). Not to be confused with Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None."


• Winter is coming! BBC America unspools a 15 1/2-hour marathon of "Planet Earth: Frozen Planet" (3 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. Sunday, TV-PG).

College football action includes LSU at Mississippi State (7 p.m., ESPN), Clemson at Louisville (8 p.m., ABC) and Texas at USC (8:30 p.m., Fox).

• The 2017 Creative Arts Emmy Awards (8 p.m., FXX) honor artistic and technical achievements in television.

• Donna has doubts on "Halt and Catch Fire" (9 p.m., AMC, TV-14).

"Declassified: Untold Stories of American Spies" (9 p.m., CNN) recalls a Cuban spy ring.

• Vanessa Hudgens goes "Running Wild With Bear Grylls" (10 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).

• Experts connect rescue dogs with people with special needs on "Rescue Dog to Super Dog" (10 p.m., Animal Planet).


• Scheduled on "60 Minutes" (7 p.m., CBS): a profile of author John le Carre.

• Stephen Colbert hosts the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards (8 p.m., CBS).

• A personalized hologram proves distracting on "The Orville" (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

• Jamie goes into hiding on "Outlander" (8 p.m., Starz, TV-MA).

• The Atlanta Falcons host the Green Bay Packers in "Sunday Night Football" (8:20 p.m., NBC).

• Vincent moves to new quarters and Candy shows interest in movies on "The Deuce" (9 p.m., HBO, TV-MA).

• Stormy weather looms on "The Last Ship" (9 p.m., TNT, TV-MA).

• Eph suffers a crisis of conscience on the season finale of "The Strain" (10 p.m., FX, TV-MA).

• Beverly has a hard time supporting Carol's decision to return to Merc on "Episodes" (10 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).

• Charity concerns on "Survivor's Remorse" (10 p.m., Starz, TV-MA).

• Gamby returns on the second season premiere of "Vice Principals" (10:30 p.m., HBO, TV-MA).


The always over-the-top Ken Russell directed the 1971 musical "The Boy Friend" (10:15 p.m. Saturday, TCM), adapted from a 1954 stage send-up of 1920s backstage musicals. Best appreciated for elaborate production numbers featuring Twiggy, Tommy Tune and others dancing atop giant record players.


NBA legends play "Celebrity Family Feud" (8 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG) * Camp trauma on "The Simpsons" (9 p.m., Fox, r, TV-PG) * A holy panini press on "Steve Harvey's Funderdome" (9 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) * Quagmire's new job on "Family Guy" (9:30 p.m., Fox, r, TV-14) * Leslie Jones plays "The $100,000 Pyramid" (10 p.m., ABC, TV-14).

© 2017, United Feature Syndicate