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Television:: KCET Joins in the Upcoming Burns Doc with California at War

As Ken Burns’ fans far and wide anticipate the arrival of his next masterpiece, The War (September 23), KCET will be taking a close look at California and how World War II impacted the state.  Judy Muller will host California at War, debuted this week, with an encore presentation to coincide with the Burns documentary on September 20. 

Executive Producer Bret Marcus believes that “World War II was a turning point for California; some have called it a second Gold Rush in the sense that the war fast-forwarded California into the future.”  Marcus continues, “California began its transformation from a sleepy West Coast enclave to the mega-state it is today.  And California changed the war.”

The story will be told in seven sections beginning with the “Prologue,” which looks at the early 40s when Californians weren’t as caught up in the war as those in Europe, and in fact were living the good life.  Next up will be “The War at Our Doorstep,” which looks at the devastating impact of the bombings of Pearl Harbor, when California was being patrolled and possibly targeted by Japanese subs off the coast.  There was the “Battle of L.A.,” which began after a false radio report that Los Angeles was under attack.

“The War Against Ourselves” is the next part of the series, and it will delve into the war at home against non-whites with the internment of 100,000 Japanese-Americans, and the “Zoot Suit Riots,” which involved the targeting of Mexican-Americans. California then becomes the defense industry powerhouse as the series airs “The War Machine.”  “The Homefront” looks at how Hollywood was caught up in war propaganda and how the stars entertained the troops. 

The series closes with “The Legacy,” which looks at V-J celebrations and how the war shaped the future of the state in terms of technological innovations and industries. 

“There are historians in this program who argue that victory in the Second World War would not have been possible without the production, technology and troops provided by California,” says Marcus.  “We tell this amazing story through historians, veterans and eyewitnesses using film and stills – some of which is being shown for the first time ever.”

California at War will also have an online component at kcet.org, which will feature exclusive photos, video and a forum for users to discuss their own community or how they feel the war impacted their families.  There will be local stories and history of the culture and economy.

Ken Burns’ documentaries have a way of hitting with a crater-like force on the surface of television. Six years in the making, this epic 14-hour film  is likely to go down in the books as one of Burns’ greatest efforts.  Of the war, Burns says, “The Second World War was so massive, catastrophic and complex, it is almost beyond the mind’s and the heart’s capacity to process everything that happened and, more important, what it meant on a human level.  Every person in the country was deeply affected by this war, whether in battle, at home, at work, or in the case of Japanese-Americans, in internment camps. By focusing on the personal stories of ordinary Americans who had extraordinary experiences, the film tries to bring one of the biggest events in the history of the world down to a very intimate scale. And in the end, we all begin to see, I think, that there are no ‘ordinary’ lives.”

No doubt millions will be tuning in to the The War before they buy it on DVD or rent it on Netflix.  But KCET is delivering something unique for residents of this state – by shaping its programming around the Burns crater it affords Californians the chance to look more deeply into how our own state was affected by the war and gives us an opportunity to reflect on what another World War might mean.

Don’t miss the series California at War.  Scheduling is available for viewing online at kcet.org.

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