On a weekly basis, two PBS series air frequently outstanding reality television in the form of one-off documentaries that focus on real people and the stories of their lives, just like the best reality TV does.
The 27th season of PBS’ POV documentary film series starts tonight with its broadcast premiere of When I Walk. It premiered at Sundance in 2013, and follows filmmaker Jason DaSilva over five years as he struggles with multiple sclerosis’ increasing effects. (Its trailer is below.)
It’s a perfect start for POV, which PBS describes as “documentaries with a point of view,” many of which are free to watch online and have all together formed “American television’s longest-running independent documentary series.” Among the films that will be shown this season are ones that follow a Florida 15-year-old who was sentenced to four consecutive life terms in prison (15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story) and another that follows a 15-year-old Russian ballroom dancer (Dance for Me). There will also be films about autism, New Orleans politics, Ed Koch, and more.
Meanwhile, PBS’ Independent Lens series has just concluded its season, and is now seeking audience award votes for the 22 films it aired last year. Recently, the series’ producer Lois Vossen told Emmy magazine that it receives 700 submissions a year for those 22 slots, and noted that, with the series, “We tell stories of African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, Latinos, Hispanics, the disabled and the elderly. We’re looking for and bringing to public television stories from communities that are underrepresented in the media in general.” Independent Lens’ Vossen also said that “PBS has more independently produced documentary films than any other outlet, and always has.”
The two series share the Monday night at 10 timeslot, though that came after a fight. Two years ago, the network rescheduled the series, moving them into a more competitive timeslot, Thursdays at 10, which led to controversy and backlash from viewers, filmmakers, and critics. PBS’ ombudsman said it “seems to fit a pattern that I sense of diminishing or less prominent public affairs programming distributed specifically by PBS in recent years.” After both the backlash and low ratings, PBS moved the shows to Mondays, where they remain.