Pioneers of Television Returns to PBS

PBS series Pioneers of Television returns with episodes looking at TV's funny women, superheroes, dramas, and miniseries

Credit: PBS

A rare 1954 colour image of Betty White, who was already a beloved TV personality

PBS’s Pioneers of Television returns, this time highlighting some of showbiz’s funniest ladies, as well as dramas, superheroes and miniseries

For the past few years, PBS has taken viewers down television’s Memory Lane with Pioneers of Television, examining the enduring impact left by classic shows of yesteryear in such genres as science fiction, Westerns and even local children’s programming. 

Funny Ladies on Pioneers of Television

The new season — consisting of only four episodes — premieres this Tuesday (January 15) with a look back at the funny ladies who have made viewers laugh since the early days of TV, profiling many beloved TV comediennes, with brand-new interviews conducted specifically for the series. Among those interviewed are Mary Tyler Moore, Betty White, Carol Burnett and The Jeffersons’ Marla Gibbs, along with a look at the groundbreaking I Love Lucy. In addition, contemporary comics such as Tina Fey and Margaret Cho discuss the funny women who influenced them. 

Great Dramas

On January 22, the second episode delves into primetime soaps, exploring the boom in serialized nighttime dramas that exploded after the success of Dallas. As you’d expect, this episode features such interviewees as the late Larry Hagman and fellow Ewings Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy, along with Linda Evans and Diahann Carroll of Dynasty, and Michelle Lee and Joan Van Ark of Knots Landing. 


One genre that is becoming particularly popular right now is addressed in the Superheroes episode, which spans several different eras of caped crusaders, ranging from the campy 1960s Batman to the gritty Hulk of the 1970s to The Greatest American Hero, including an interview with star Robert Culp recorded mere days before he passed away. Also interviewed for this segment (airing January 29) are Batman’s Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar, Wonder Woman’s Lynda Carter and The Incredible Hulk’s Lou Ferrigno. 


The season wraps up on February 5 with a look at miniseries, some of which rank among television’s top-rated broadcasts. Perhaps the most notable of these is 1977’s Roots, and the season’s final Pioneers of Television instalment includes new interviews with cast-members LeVar Burton, Louis Gossett Jr., Leslie Uggams, Ben Vereen, John Amos, Georg Stanford Brown and Ed Asner. In addition, others interviewed for this episode include Peter Strauss and Susan Blakely of Rich Man, Poor Man, and Richard Chamberlain, Rachel Ward and Bryan Brown of The Thorn Birds.

Originally published in TVW. For daily programming updates and on-screen Entertainment news, subscribe to the free TVW e-newsletters, or purchase a subscription to the weekly magazine.