American Experience: Season 20 (2007 - 2008)

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Season 20
American Experience

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Episodes

Air date: Jan 14, 2008

For the Baby Boomers, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy took on the same sense of tragedy as the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks did for Generation Y -- not only for the effect that it had on the nation's morale but for the conspiracy theories that would follow in its wake as well. In the aftermath of the assassination, President Lyndon B. Johnson plunged the country into a divisive and questionable war in part due to paranoia, thus creating an atmosphere of distrust and disillusionment that would linger for decades to come. Later, following the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, President Richard M. Nixon's flagrant abuse of power seemed to be the final nail in the coffin of American idealism. In this documentary, acclaimed filmmaker Robert Stone (Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst) speaks with such renowned figures as Norman Mailer, Edward J. Epstein, Tom Hayden, and Gary Hart in order to explore the malaise that still lingers since the Kennedy assassination while drawing telling parallels between that pivotal event and the aftermath of the September 11th tragedy.

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Air date: Jan 21, 2008

In this installment of American Experience, filmmakers take a closer look at one of the most controversial medical procedures in the history of medicine. Back in the early-20th Century, individuals suffering from mental illness had little hope of ever staging a full recovery: Psychiatric medications had not yet been discovered, and the afflicted were often herded into overcrowded state asylums. Despite the fact that Freudian psychoanalysis and "talk" therapy were slowly gaining in popularity, an enterprising young neurologist named Walter Freeman proposed a radical new form of brain surgery in order to lessen the severity of psychotic symptoms in his patients. Having hailed from a long line of medical professionals, Freeman was no stranger to the inner workings of the body, and after learning of a Portuguese neurologist who operated on the frontal lobes of the mentally ill by using a thin steel instrument, he set about perfecting the procedure and importing it for practice in the United States. The procedure, known as the lobotomy, may have only yielded mixed results in the early 1940s, yet doctors in nearly fifty state asylums began performing lobotomies on their patients and as a result Freeman was hailed a hero of modern medicine. A decade later, however, the same procedure that some claimed brought hope to the utterly hopeless was hailed as barbaric, and Freeman was labeled a moral monster. How is it that opinion could have changed so drastically in such a short amount of time? Now, as filmmakers speak with a series of medical historians, psychiatrists, colleagues of Dr. Freeman, and the families who sought him out as a last resort, viewers are offered a revealing glimpse into the origins of a medical procedure that ruined countless lives.

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Air date: Feb 4, 2008

Explore the tragedy that inspired Grand Central Terminal and follow the dramatic construction of this awe-inspiring landmark as the filmmakers from American Experience reflect on the origins and history of a spectacular monument to the railway era. The date was January 8, 1902: A southbound commuter train was barreling through a congested Grand Central Depot tunnel when it collided with the rear end of another train. By the time the firemen arrived to search for survivors, seventeen people were dead and thirty-eight more were seriously injured. That day, an ambitious self-taught engineer made it his mission to ensure that New York City commuters never again experienced a tragedy of this magnitude. Christened Grand Central Terminal when it opened on February 2, 1913, the resulting complex was a true marvel of technological and architectural innovation. But building such a living monument was no simple task, and now viewers can find out exactly how much heart and soul went into he construction of a railway terminal that still stands proudly as one of our nation's crowning achievements.

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Air date: Feb 4, 2008

Explore the tragedy that inspired Grand Central Terminal and follow the dramatic construction of this awe-inspiring landmark as the filmmakers from American Experience reflect on the origins and history of a spectacular monument to the railway era. The date was January 8, 1902: A southbound commuter train was barreling through a congested Grand Central Depot tunnel when it collided with the rear end of another train. By the time the firemen arrived to search for survivors, seventeen people were dead and thirty-eight more were seriously injured. That day, an ambitious self-taught engineer made it his mission to ensure that New York City commuters never again experienced a tragedy of this magnitude. Christened Grand Central Terminal when it opened on February 2, 1913, the resulting complex was a true marvel of technological and architectural innovation. But building such a living monument was no simple task, and now viewers can find out exactly how much heart and soul went into he construction of a railway terminal that still stands proudly as one of our nation's crowning achievements.

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Air date: Feb 25, 2008

Experience the story of the man who cemented the concept of Wild West mythology in the hearts and minds of nostalgic historians across the globe in this documentary detailing the remarkable life of William Cody. A common plainsman who realized the potential for profit in exploiting the more sensational aspects of the old west, Cody adapted the nickname "Buffalo Bill" and premiered "Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show" to enthusiastic New York City crowds back in 1886. An elaborate production featuring cowboys, Indians, sharpshooters (including the famed Annie Oakley), horses, buffalo, elk, donkeys, and a cast of over 200, the show dazzled New York crowds before hitting the road and impressing audiences in London, Paris, Rome, and Barcelona. Some called him a huckster while others called him a genius, but everyone agrees that "Buffalo Bill Cody" was almost single-handedly responsible for keeping the concept of the Wild West alive and kicking decades after the railroad came to town.

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Air date: Mar 31, 2008

Though innumerable American history books have praised the doings of polar explorer Robert Peary over the years, few relayed a heartbreaking and seldom-publicized story tied directly to Peary's accomplishments. In the spring of 1897, Peary arrived in New York City, with a ship full of Greenland-born Eskimos in-tow. Peary dropped the immigrants off in Manhattan (fully unaware of the ramifications of such an act), then promptly turned around and hearkened back to the North Pole. Left to fend for themselves in New York City, the Eskimos fared poorly; they experienced extreme difficulty adjusting to the climate and urban lifestyle, then quickly grew ill and weak, and died off, one-by-one - all except for the last survivor, a seven-year-old Eskimo boy named Minik. For over ten years, Peary persisted in his efforts to reach the North Pole, while Minik tenaciously struggled - with little success - to adapt to his surroundings as a fish-out-of-water in New York City. Axel Engstfeld's documentary American Experience: Minik, the Lost Eskimo cross-cuts between the two men's stories, revealing how one meeting between them irreparably altered each individual's life.

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Air date: Feb 18, 2008

Whether you view him as one of the great American heroes or a deplorable crusader who savaged one of the West's most mighty Native American tribes, there's no denying that Christopher "Kit" Carson played a crucial role in the development of the United States. In this documentary, director Stephen Ives explores the journey of the Indian Tracker who was immortalized in dozens of bestselling novels. While Carson spent a substantial portion of his life advocating for the Native Americans, history would ultimately dictate that his name be forever associated with the "Long Walk" of the Navajos - a tragic campaign in which thousands of men, women, and children were forced on a 3000 mile journey that survivors branded a death march. Archival materials, detailed recreations, and conversations with prominent authors and historians bring the story of this infamous trapper, scout, and soldier to life while illuminating a crucial but seldom-discussed period in American history.

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Air date: Apr 21, 2008

Roberto Clemente not only became the first Latino pro baseball player to achieve superstar status, he made sure that people were aware of the issues affecting areas of the world in need of humanitarian aid. His life was tragically cut short while on a flight to Nicaragua, but this film celebrates the life of the influential athlete. The film utilizes archival footage along with contemporary interviews with his colleagues and many baseball historians.

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Air date: Feb 25, 2008

Experience the story of the man who cemented the concept of Wild West mythology in the hearts and minds of nostalgic historians across the globe in this documentary detailing the remarkable life of William Cody. A common plainsman who realized the potential for profit in exploiting the more sensational aspects of the old west, Cody adapted the nickname "Buffalo Bill" and premiered "Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show" to enthusiastic New York City crowds back in 1886. An elaborate production featuring cowboys, Indians, sharpshooters (including the famed Annie Oakley), horses, buffalo, elk, donkeys, and a cast of over 200, the show dazzled New York crowds before hitting the road and impressing audiences in London, Paris, Rome, and Barcelona. Some called him a huckster while others called him a genius, but everyone agrees that "Buffalo Bill Cody" was almost single-handedly responsible for keeping the concept of the Wild West alive and kicking decades after the railroad came to town.

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Air date: May 6, 2008

Conclusion. President George H.W. Bush's freefall from an 89 percent approval rating in 1991 to 37 percent of the vote in the 1992 election is chronicled in this thoughtful profile, which covers the second half of his presidency and beyond. As detailed here, although Ronald Reagan is often credited with "winning" the Cold War, it was Bush who secured the victory with deft handling of the USSR's final days. Included: interviews with Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Brent Scowcroft.

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