KEN BURNS’S AND LYNN NOVICK’S “THE WAR” WAS THE MOST WATCHED SERIES IN LAST TEN YEARS ON PBS
Washington, DC – November 20, 2007 – THE WAR, directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, was the most watched series in the last ten years on PBS. The initial broadcast premiere (September 23–October 2, 2007, including weekend repeats), reached 37.8 million people (national persons cume; an unduplicated count of all people who saw six minutes or more of the series) and earned a 4.7 national HH average audience rating, which translates into 7 million people watching during the average minute. Among the 56 metered markets, the top average HH ratings for the entire premiere included Seattle (8.2 average HH rating) and Minneapolis (average 7.9 HH rating).
In addition, the ratings for the weekly repeat broadcast of the series, Wednesday, October 3-November 14, averaged a 1.3 rating among the metered-market stations per night. When projected to a national rating, this translates into two million viewers during the average minute.
“We knew THE WAR would resonate with a broad audience, engaging not only those who have remained silent for so many years, but also families who wanted to hear about their grandfathers’ and grandmothers' experiences,” said John Boland, PBS Chief Content Officer. “In 2007’s 500-channel plus universe, these numbers are extraordinary, and THE WAR ranks as one of public television’s finest hours – or I should say finest 15 hours! We are equally thrilled that millions of additional viewers have tuned in for the weekly repeat of the series.”
THE WAR’s reach and impact went far beyond the broadcast, Boland explained, with 969,003 visitors to the Web site on pbs.org and 4,857,423 total page views to date. One hundred and seventeen PBS stations across the nation participated in some form of community outreach (local documentaries, screenings, workshops, etc.) and nearly 30,000 educator guides went to every high school in the country. In addition, more than 200,000 copies of THE WAR DVD shipped during the first month, with a sell through rate of 62 percent. THE WAR DVD was a top 10 seller for Borders for the month of October.
THE WAR companion book (Knopf), written by Geoffrey C. Ward, who also wrote the script for the film, has been on the New York Times bestseller list for weeks.
In a joint statement, Burns and Novick said, “As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving with our families our thoughts are very much with the families we met over the last seven years making and sharing this film. In the last few months alone, as we prepared for broadcast, three of the individuals in our film have passed away -- Earl Burke and Harry Schmid from Sacramento and Ray Leopold from Waterbury. Our thoughts are with their families this year and with those of the thousands of other veterans who are passing each week. THE WAR for us was a profound exercise in listening, and we were privileged to provide a remarkable group of men and women with the chance to share their personal stories about the horrors of war. We are honored and humbled that the country embraced our film so strongly, and we extend our thanks to all who participated in the production and broadcast.”
For Burns and Novick, the extraordinarily positive response from viewers has gone far beyond what can be expressed through numbers. The filmmakers have received hundreds of letters, emails, and phone calls from veterans and their families who have been deeply touched by the series. Viewer response suggests that the broadcast has fostered intergenerational conversations, connected families and communities, and sparked tremendous curiosity about this important epoch. One woman from California wrote, “I was seven and a half years old in 1945 when my father was killed on Okinawa. ‘The War’ gave me insight into what my father went through. Though it wasn’t an easy thing to watch at times, I still had to need to know.” Another viewer from Vermont wrote that her father died fourteen years ago but rarely spoke about the war. “Your program gave a huge insight into what was behind the rather quiet man that I loved and respected. My only wish is that I could talk to him about it now that I’ve seen what he went through.” A veteran wrote, “It was nice to hear about the war from a plain old dogface like me rather than from a military expert or general.”
Beyond the letters, Burns and Novick have received artifacts and other personal possessions, including a container of sand sent from Omaha Beach, and buttons from soldiers’ uniforms, among other things.
Burns’s 1994 film BASEBALL remains the most watched series on PBS with a cume of 43.1 million, followed by the premiere broadcast of THE CIVIL WAR in 1990, which had a cume of 38.9 million. The repeat of THE CIVIL WAR in September 2002 had a cume of 32.1 million and JAZZ had a 30.6 million cume.
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Joe DePlasco, 212-981-5125