The Supreme Court: First Major Series to Examine America's Highest Court to Air on PBS During 2006-07 Season

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Thirteen/WNET New York Produces Four-Part Series Exploring the Court's History, Evolution and Impact on U.S. Society
New York Life Underwrites Broadcast Series and Educators' Website



"We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final."-- Robert H. Jackson, Supreme Court Justice

PBS Press Tour, Pasadena, CA, January 14, 2006 - Perhaps no institution has been the subject of more drama, controversy and debate than The United States Supreme Court. The site of immense power and considerable mystery, America's final court of appeal has helped author the history of America. But even though it is one of the pillars of American democracy, no television series has profiled the workings of the Court and the Justices who shaped it. Until now.

THE SUPREME COURTis the first major television series to trace the story and influence of America's highest court. Produced by Thirteen/WNET New York, the series will be a major PBS presentation airing during the 2006-07 broadcast season (exact dates to be announced later). It will be supported by an ambitious national outreach effort, including a companion Web site on PBS.org as well a companion book by Jeffrey Rosen, professor of law at George Washington University Law School, and published by Times Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company.

The series' sole corporate sponsor is New York Life Insurance Company, which has also committed to fund a comprehensive educators' Web site to encourage social studies teachers to emphasize the role of the Court in shaping and reshaping the American way of life. The series is also supported by a grant from The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which provides for educational materials that will extend the impact of the series into a classroom context.

"Now is the ideal moment to explore the history and impact of the Supreme Court," said John F. Wilson, senior vice president, PBS Programming. "With the recent appointment of a new Chief Justice and the congressional hearings for a new Associate Justice, Americans are paying heightened attention to the Supreme Court. This series, which will debut just as the new Court begins to make its mark, promises to offer American viewers invaluable insight into what is perhaps the least-understood branch of our government."

"From the Civil War and Reconstruction to desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement, the history of the Supreme Court is the history of America," said Jody Sheff, executive producer of the series. "Many see the Court as a monolithic institution removed from the volatility of everyday life. But in this series we will lift the curtains and discover the personalities and power-plays of those mysterious figures on the high bench. And we will explore the dramatic stories of the individuals whose cases have come before the court to shape the laws of our land."

Over four hours, the series will trace the Court's evolution from its establishment to the present day. It will do so by focusing on the temperament and constitutional vision of key Justices and the key cases throughout our history. The chronicle will explore the continuing struggle over how the Court defines its role and manifests its powers. As Alexander Hamilton put it, "with neither sword nor purse," this least known branch of government has had to walk a fine line to enforce its decisions. The programs will elucidate the shifting yet delicate balance between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the federal government. Numerous accounts will highlight the complex and explosive collisions between the Court and the presidency. Portraits of many key figures, presidents, justices, attorneys, plaintiffs, and defendants will illustrate how all Americans, both the powerful and the penniless, have been able to have their day in court,  the results of which have sometimes made a lasting change on our culture and society.

Program One - "The Least Dangerous Branch" (w.t.)  will examine the creation of the Court and follows it up through the brink of the Civil War. It will pay particular attention to the fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall, and to his successor, Roger Taney. One presided over the most famous case before the Court, the other the most infamous.

Program Two -  "Making America Modern" (w.t.) will explore the issues before the Court during the period after the Civil War when America experienced unprecedented economic growth. Culminating in the cases of the New Deal, the program will cover the evolution in judicial activism from Justice Stephen Field to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Here the complex struggle of power between business interests and the rights of the individual worker takes center stage, as does the fight for racial and gender equality against the backdrop of Reconstruction and the Industrial Revolution.

Program Three -  "By the Content of Their Character" (w.t.)  will focus on the Court's reaction to state and federal legislation on Bill of Rights freedoms, with special attention to the explosion of civil rights cases from the early 1940s to the present. This program will highlight the Warren Court as it confronts the issues of race, gender, and religion.

Program Four - "With Liberty and Justice for All" (w.t.) will review how the Court has undertaken to define individual rights or civil liberties in America. This last hour of the series will investigate how the Court, especially under the leadership of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, has risen in importance to become the institution most responsible for resolving the central questions of American life.

Educational Outreach
Thirteen/WNET will be creating national educational outreach in support of the series. Outreach and materials will surround the primetime broadcast and enable viewers to use the series as an educational tool in homes, schools, libraries, and community groups. The series will be accompanied by a substantial Web site, a widely distributed viewer's guide, and a companion book. Workshops will enable teachers to incorporate the series into their classes, hold mock trials on key Supreme Court cases, and help students explore the workings of the judicial and political systems in their communities.

Education Web Site  www.historyofsupremecourt.org
New York Life is funding an educator's Web site similar to those it supported for THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT, THE RISE AND FALL OF JIM CROW, and SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA. Created by teachers all over America, working in conjunction with recognized academics and in partnership with the National Council for the Social Studies and the National Archives, the site, www.historyofsupremecourt.org , is already online in partial form and is drawing steady teacher traffic. The site organizes the Court's history and role along themes drawn from national social studies curriculum standards and includes original essays, lesson plans, and other resources in addition to a unique interactive timeline.

Production Credits
THE SUPREME COURT is a HiddenHill Production for Thirteen/WNET New York. Series producer is Mark Zwonitzer; series director is Thomas Lennon; cinematographer is Michael Chin; composer is Brian Keane. Producers are Rob Rapley, Julia Elliott and Jamila Wignot. Executive producer is Jody Sheff. Executive in charge is William Grant.

PBS is a private, nonprofit media enterprise that serves the nation's 348 public noncommercial television stations, reaching nearly 90 million people each week through on-air and online content. Bringing diverse viewpoints to television and the Internet, PBS provides high-quality documentary and dramatic entertainment, and consistently dominates the most prestigious award competitions. PBS is the leading provider of educational materials for K-12 teachers, and offers a broad array of educational services for adult learners. PBS' premier kids' TV programming and Web site, PBS KIDS Online pbskids.org, continue to be parents' and teachers' most trusted learning environments for children. More information about PBS is available at pbs.org, one of the leading dot-org Web sites on the Internet. PBS is headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia.

Thirteen/WNET New York is one of the key program providers for public television, bringing such acclaimed series as NATURE, GREAT PERFORMANCES, AMERICAN MASTERS, CHARLIE ROSE, RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, WIDE ANGLE, SECRETS OF THE DEAD and CYBERCHASE,  as well as the work of Bill Moyers  to audiences nationwide. As the flagship public broadcaster in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut metro area, Thirteen reaches millions of viewers each week, airing the best of American public television along with its own local productions such as "The Ethnic Heritage Specials," "The Thirteen Walking Tours," "New York Voices," and "Reel New York." With educational and community outreach projects that extend the impact of its television productions, Thirteen takes television "out of the box." And as broadcast and digital media converge, Thirteen is blazing trails in the creation of Web sites, enhanced television, CD-ROMs, DVD-ROMs, educational software, and other cutting-edge media products. More information about Thirteen can be found at: thirteen.org


CONTACT: Tim Fisher, Fisher Company, 845/526-0182; tf@fishercompany.net

Roz Kay, Thirteen/WNET, 212/560-3016; kay@thirteen.org
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