“Finding Your Roots,” the PBS celebrity-genealogy series that came under scrutiny earlier this year after revelations of producers scrubbing an episode of a reference to slave-holding ancestors in actor Ben Affleck’s family, has found a new perch on PBS winter and spring schedule.
PBS intends to launch a third season of the series starting January 5. Among the celebrities scheduled to explore their family trees are actress Julianne Moore, TV producer Shonda Rhimes actor Neil Patrick Harris and actress Julianna Margulies. “I’m confident there won’t be any problem,” said Beth Hoppe, PBS’ chief programming executive and general manger of general audience programming, in an interview.
In June, however, the future of the series, produced by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., was in doubt. PBS found itself in the awkward position of having to defend the integrity of the series, and said at the time that a third season of the program would be delayed “until we are satisfied that the editorial standards of the series have been successfully raised to a level in which we can have confidence.” The network has yet to make a determination about a fourth season of the program, according to a PBS spokeswoman.
Hoppe described a new governing system for the show in which PBS and Gates had “opened up the process to make it much more of a dialogue” as producers worked to research celebrity backgrounds, she said. New levels of fact-checking had been added, she said, along with an independent genealogist. “We wanted to make sure we don’t have a situation like that again, and have done it with [Gates’] full cooperation,” said Hoppe.
Affleck’s request — and its influence on the production of the series — came to light in April, as media outlets reported on private email exchanges between Gates and Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton in which Gates sought Lynton’s counsel over requests by Affleck to remove a segment from the episode that mentioned that slave owners were part of his family history. Executives at PBS and WNET, the station that produced the series’ first two seasons, were not made aware of Gates’ decision to make the change.
The episode in which Affleck’s ancestry is examined was withdrawn from all forms of distribution, PBS said in June, including digital streaming and home video.
In June, Gates apologized for not informing public-broadcasting executives of his decision and indicated he was open to increase the transparency around the program’s inner workings.