Since she was appointed executive producer of “American Experience” in July 2020, Cameo George has been busy expanding and diversifying the slate of PBS’ signature historical documentary series, with the upcoming 34th season the first produced in full under her direction.

The new “American Experience” season will kick off on Feb. 7 with Michael Bicks and Anna Lee Strachan’s “Riveted: The History of Jeans.” About how jeans became a staple of clothing worldwide, it is one of six feature documentaries in the season, five of which were commissioned by George, the first Black woman to helm “American Experience.” George replaced Mark Samels, who retired from the series in 2020 after serving as executive producer of the program for 16 years.

“I have always thought of ‘American Experience’ as the single most important history series in the doc world, and the chance to build on the incredible legacy of the series, freshen it up a bit, and open the door to a wider range of filmmakers and topics is a dream for me,” says George. “I’m looking forward to broadening the definition of what an ‘American Experience’ film is. I want us to explore some more recent history, and anticipate actively mining stories from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.

“I’m also thinking about how to add a little more popular culture to our mix of topics, like we’re doing with our Season 34 opener, ‘Riveted: The History of Jeans,’ she continues. “I’m eager to expand our focus on people who made history and have critically impacted our lives but aren’t well-known.”

The move to add contemporary stories to the lineup is in part an effort to appeal to younger, more diverse audiences, George says.

Films produced in Samels’ tenure include Barak Goodman’s “Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation” and “My Lai,” Stanley Nelson’s “The Murder of Emmett Till” and “Freedom Riders” and Rory Kennedy’s “The Last Days in Vietnam.”

In addition to “Riveted: The History of Jeans,” “American Experience” Season 34 includes: Leola Calzolai-Stewart’s “The American Diplomat,” about three pioneering Black diplomats assigned to advocate for American ideals abroad while contending with racism; Rob Rapley’s “Flood in the Desert,” about California’s struggle to provide water to its sprawling cities; Li-Shin Yu’s “Plague at the Golden Gate,” about anti-Asian sentiment following an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1900 in San Francisco’s Chinatown; and Robert Stone’s “Taken Hostage,” about the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis. (The sixth film in the series has not been announced.)

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American Diplomat/American Experience

Bicks, Strachan and Calzolai-Stewart are new “American Experience” directors. (Yu, a veteran film editor who has edited numerous “American Experience” documentaries, co-directed an earlier installment in the series.)

“The plan is to continue to work with our ‘American Experience’ veterans while also opening the door to newcomers,” says George. “I want ‘American Experience’ to be a place that is welcoming to all. Creating a pipeline of a diverse and varied set of filmmakers is a priority for me.”

In its 34-year history the series has received 30 Emmy awards for films including Nelson’s “Freedom Riders” and nine Academy Award nominations – the most recent in 2015 for Kennedy’s “Last Days in Vietnam.”

“It is a privilege to work with filmmakers of Stanley Nelson’s and Rory Kennedy’s caliber and of course, we are chomping at the bit to work with them,” says George. “The competition to work with top-tier directors is fierce, as there are so many outlets for outstanding documentary film. We will continue to make it known that we want to be at the table developing and producing projects with big-name directors. I want us to be a viable option for big, shiny projects.”

While George says that runs at premiere film festivals and nominations for big awards remain important to the series, she does not consider it the only measures of success.

“We are mission- and values-driven and want to work with people who also see this kind of storytelling as a public service,” she says.

“American Experience” Season 34 will roll out throughout 2022.