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PBS unveils a fun, thoughtful season in Austin

Dale Roe
Martin Short takes kids on an adventure as the voice of the behatted Cat on 'The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!' It will debut on Labor Day. Surprisingly, this is the first animated series based on a Dr. Seuss book. Other books have been animated for TV specials, but not a series.

There sure was a lot of earnestness at the Hilton Austin during the 2010 PBS Annual Meeting, held last week.

Whether the three high-definition screens in the hotel's ballroom were showing the thousand public television attendees scenes from tear-jerking animal documentaries, action-filled detective stories or parodies of "Upstairs, Downstairs" with Muppet Grover, well, walking up and down a set of stairs, the mood in the room was really one of appreciation, both for the programming and the tools PBS was providing the affiliate stations to help them promote, fundraise and create their own adjunct programming.

Here are some highlights of what to watch for on KLRU and other PBS affiliates this fall:

Prime time

  • "The Tenth Inning." Ken Burns updates his 1994 series "Baseball." Beginning with the crippling 1994-95 Major League strike and continuing through the doping controversies, the two-part, four-hour film includes the stories of Joe Torre, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Pedro Martinez, Ichiro Suzuki, Cal Ripken Jr. and Barry Bonds and includes input from fans, players, writers and broadcasters. It's set to air Sept. 28-29.
  • "Need to Know." The online and broadcast project is the newest member of the PBS stable, having been created only a couple of weeks ago (the team was assembled beginning in January). The project aims to be both a current-affairs television show and a destination online content site covering news in five basic areas: economy, health, energy, security and culture. The team, including Alison Stewart and co-host Jon Meacham, will work with a disparate group of content producers including affiliate stations, bloggers and viewers to create an eclectic community built around journalism. Promoted topics included Mexico and guns; the Texas textbook battle; 50 years of the contraceptive pill; and Somali rappers.
  • "Circus." Debuting in November, this documentary miniseries from the team behind the Emmy-winning "Carrier" follows the Big Apple Circus under the big top and behind the scenes. Creator and executive producer Jeff Dupree showed a beautiful and unsettling segment that focused on trapeze artists.
  • "God in America." From the producers of "Frontline" and "American Experience," this six-hour series examines religion in the United States, covering 400 years of history and focusing on the ways Americans' beliefs about God have shaped the country.
  • "Masterpiece." With an audience that grew by 31 percent last year, the 40th anniversary season of this venerable PBS offering includes a new version of "Upstairs, Downstairs," set in 1936 with new residents inhabiting 165 Eaton Place. Original stars Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins will have roles. "Masterpiece Mystery" boasts a new detective, Rufus Sewell as the Alpha-driving Aurelio Zen, but its centerpiece show seems to be a new version of Sherlock Holmes, which places the arrogant detective in modern times, wearing a hoodie, working a computer and text messaging with an iPhone.
  • "American Masters." The upcoming 24th season seems largely music-driven, featuring episodes on the last years in the life of John Lennon, the eccentric classical pianist Glenn Gould, Mambo king Cachao, Merle Haggard and Odetta (Lennon and Cachao both moved to the U.S.). Also included is Martin Scorsese's look at one of his prime inspirations, film director Elia Kazan.

Kids

Martin Short will voice the title character in "The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That," an animated, educational children's program premiering on Labor Day.

It's the first animated series based on Dr. Seuss. Speaking at the session on children's programming, Kate Klimo of Random House/Golden Books Young Readers Group said that Short was impish, sweet and subversive — everything the Cat was.

Klimo showed a clip of the new series and Martin's outsized personality does seem like a good fit for the role, especially in an animated vehicle where it does not have to be contained.

Another new series comes from Chris and Martin Kratt, of "Kratt's Creatures" and "Zoboomafoo." The animated 'Wild Kratts' will visualize animal behavior that cannot be easily captured on film — for instance, life at the bottom of the ocean.

Thanksgiving week will see a new Curious George movie, "Follow That Monkey"; "Dinosaur Train" will have a special in the summer and one in the fall; and "Sid the Science Kid" gets a sing-along special in June. All in all, 180 new episodes of a dozen series will be shown in the next programming year.