×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

PBS Goes West With Custer, Billy the Kid Docs

As a fan of westerns, I was actually pretty excited about the new season of PBS’ “American Experience” — a look at the old west, including two new documentaries: “Billy the Kid” and “Custer’s Last Stand” on Jan. 10 and 17, respectively.

The results, however, are mixed. At nearly two hours, the Custer special — directed by Stephen Ives — is a little bloated; and the one-hour “Billy the Kid,” from director John Maggio, contains some intriguing tidbits but didn’t really hold my interest.

That was a surprise, given how many movies I’ve seen featuring both characters, and especially the disparate takes on Gen. George Armstrong Custer, who has been depicted as everything from an inspirational hero (see “They Died With Their Boots On”) to (in “Little Big Man”) a complete loon.

Perhaps the most intriguing element — even more so than all the talk about military strategy — involves how Custer’s wife, who adored him, “almost single-handedly turned the Battle of the Little Bighorn into one of the most iconic events in American history and mythologized Custer’s role — turning it into a tale of heroic sacrifice with only the most noble of motives,” as the release puts it.

Even so, it’s a bit of a slog to get to that postscript near the doc’s end.

Given the shortage of top-notch history on TV — especially with the History channel pawning its credibility and doing less and less to merit its name — there’s no pleasure in voting thumbs down on “American Experience.” But this is one of those situations where my advice would be to skip the documentary, and go re-watch one of the movies. Boots optional.

More Voices

  • Taylor Swift's "ME!" Video Brings the

    Swift Take: Taylor's Dazzling 'ME!' Is a Phantasmagorical Sugar Rush (Watch)

    Taylor Swift has been leaving Easter eggs for her fans, with clues about the title, themes, et al. of her new single. The video, as it turns out, is almost like diving into a literal basket of Easter eggs. The opening title card for “ME!” reads “directed by Dave Meyers and Taylor Swift,” but we [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    WGA, Agents Face Tough Issues on New Franchise Pact (Column)

    The Writers Guild of America and the major talent agencies are seven weeks away from a deadline that could force film and TV writers to choose between their agents and their union. This is a battle that has been brewing for a year but few in the industry saw coming until a few weeks ago. [...]

  • FX Confronts Streaming Thanks to Disney

    Kicking and Screaming, FX Is Forced to Confront Future in the Stream (Column)

    During his network’s presentation at the winter Television Critics Assn. press tour, FX chief John Landgraf made waves — and headlines — by mounting perhaps his most direct criticism yet of Netflix. Landgraf, whose briefings to the press tend to rely heavily on data about the volume of shows with which FX’s competitors flood the [...]

  • Longtime TV Editor Recalls Working for

    How a Bad Director Can Spoil the Show (Guest Column)

    I have been blessed with editing some of TV’s greatest shows, working with some of the industry’s greatest minds. “The Wonder Years,” “Arrested Development,” “The Office,” “Scrubs,” “Pushing Daisies” and, most recently, “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” I have earned an Emmy, ACE Eddie Awards, and many nominations. But whatever kudos I’ve received, over my [...]

  • Stock market Stock buyback

    Stock Buybacks Leave Firms Without Funds to Invest in Future (Column)

    Corporate giants on the S&P 500 have spent more than $720 billion during the past year on stock buybacks. Media and entertainment firms account for only a fraction of that spending, but even $1 million spent on share repurchases seems a foolhardy expenditure at this transformational moment for the industry. The record level of spending [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content