Meryl Streep Introduces "Back To School" Programming on PBS in September

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PBS Salutes Teachers and Students With "School," Narrated by Streep, And "The First Year," A Documentary on New School teachers

PBS Stations Complement Initiative With Local Programs

PHILADELPHIA, PA - June 14, 2001 - PBS and Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep will team up for special week-long "Back to School" programming highlighting public education beginning Labor Day. Ms. Streep will introduce the documentary series SCHOOL: THE STORY OF AMERICAN PUBLIC EDUCATION (which she also narrates), airing Monday, September 3 and Tuesday, September 4 at 9 p.m., and THE FIRST YEAR, a 90-minute cinema verite documentary about new teachers, on Thursday, September 6 at 9 p.m. In addition, Ms. Streep will appear in several promotional spots tied to PBS's education programming throughout the week.

As part of "Back to School," PBS will also offer encore presentations of AMERICAN HIGH as well as diverse specials about education throughout September. (Check local listings for all programs.)

Public television stations will complement the PBS initiative in a variety of ways during the week of September 3. The Oklahoma Network will produce a one-hour documentary honoring that state's teachers cited for excellence by the Milken Family Foundation. KLVX in Las Vegas will air a campaign of television spots honoring outstanding educators. WTVS Detroit Public Television will use its new Kids Club character to deliver back-to-school messages to young viewers, and is collaborating with Detroit Public Schools to build a magnet media and performing arts high school. Louisiana Public Broadcasting, in cooperation with the Academic Distinction Fund and other educational organizations, will use its six transmitter sites to deliver specials honoring outstanding academic achievements by Louisiana students.

"Education is at the core of all we and our stations do at PBS, from programming to Web content to national outreach," said Pat Mitchell, president and CEO of PBS, in making the announcement at the PBS Annual Meeting in Philadelphia. "We are particularly delighted that Meryl Streep, a mother with an intense passion for the subject, will host this week of broadcasts. Although Americans sometimes take public education for granted, it was actually a hard-won right and a relatively recent one."

Meryl Streep's work in film, television and theater has been distinguished by the diversity of women she has chosen to portray and her great empathy for them. She won the Academy Award twice, as Best Actress for Sophie's Choice (1982) and Best Supporting Actress for Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). More recently, she won acclaim for her work in The Bridges of Madison County, The River Wild, Marvin's Room and Dancing at Lughnasa. She received Oscar nominations for One True Thing in 1999 and Music of the Heart in 2000 (in which she starred as a real-life violin instructor in a tough East Harlem school). She has also won the Outer Critics Circle Award, the Theater World Award, an Obie, and a Tony nomination. In September 1999, Ms. Streep received the Gotham Lifetime Achievement Award from the Independent Feature Project in New York.

SCHOOL examines the great American experiment of universal education, providing a history of this phenomenon from the American Revolution to today. The programs look at the fervent efforts of Thomas Jefferson and others to create a common system of tax-supported schools that would mix people of different backgrounds; the spread of public schooling in the 19th century; the massive wave of immigration in the early 20th century; the Civil Rights era; and the reforms and turmoil that mark our public school system today.

SCHOOL is accompanied by extensive outreach, including panel discussions, workshops, town hall meetings, screenings and local educational events, all examining the issues brought forth in the PBS series. Directed and produced by Sarah Mondale and Sarah Patton of Stone Lantern Films, Inc., SCHOOL is presented in association with KCET Hollywood.

THE FIRST YEAR chronicles the lives of five young teachers in southern California as they cope with their first year in the profession. The documentary follows them through the entire school year - as they work with children, teenagers and adult immigrants - and explores what is perhaps most important in education: the powerful relationship between teacher and student.

America faces an extreme shortage of educators; it is estimated that to bridge the gap over the next ten years, over two million new teachers will need to be enlisted. As the teachers in THE FIRST YEAR overcome the obstacles and reap the rewards of their profession, they demonstrate the fundamental role of talented, dedicated teachers in the health of the nation's schools. An extensive outreach campaign for the program includes a Web site geared to potential teachers and a short version of the film available to educational organizations to inspire young adults to become teachers. THE FIRST YEAR, a presentation of KCET Hollywood, is directed by Davis Guggenheim and produced by Julia Schachter.

The final rebroadcast episodes of AMERICAN HIGH, the acclaimed PBS reality series about life in a Chicago high school, air each Wednesday night at 10 p.m. in September, with the culminating graduation episode airing on September 26. The series, which follows students in a suburban Chicago high school, has earned raves from critics and viewers alike.

In addition, PBS will make available to its member stations programming keyed to the education theme in September:

NO GREATER CALLING, hosted by Emmy Award-winning actor, producer and writer Edward James Olmos, is a one-hour documentary that celebrates model teachers whose skill and commitment touch the lives of their students in communities across America. The program is a presentation of UNC-TV in North Carolina.

Encore programs:

  • ONLY A TEACHER is a three-hour series exploring the historical and ongoing importance of teachers in the lives of their students, emphasizing their crucial influence as role models and upholders of society's norms. (Claudia Levin Productions)
  • In THE MERROW REPORT: SCHOOL SLEUTH, recent winner of a Peabody Award, John Merrow casts himself as a private eye trying to solve "The Case of the Excellent School." He explores such topics as safety, curriculum, physical environment, adults in the building, and the school's sense of community to measure excellence in education. (South Carolina ETV)
  • THE MERROW REPORT: THE TOUGHEST JOB IN AMERICA asks, "What is the toughest job in this country?" How about running a big city school system? The two-hour program chronicles David Hornbeck's six tumultuous years as head of Philadelphia's public school system, the fifth largest in the nation, and tells the story of one man's struggle to bring change to a system that bucks it at every turn. (South Carolina ETV)

PBS, headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, is a private, nonprofit media enterprise owned and operated by the nation's 347 public television stations. Serving nearly 100 million people each week, PBS enriches the lives of all Americans through quality programs and education services on noncommercial television, the Internet and other media. More information about PBS is available at PBS.org.


Cathy Lehrfeld

Harry Forbes

Christine Weaver