PASADENA, CALIF. -- Although it's played widely in art house movie theaters, musician and co-producer Ry Cooder is eager for the PBS debut of "Buena Vista Social Club" Wednesday at 9 p.m. on WQED.
"Well, I know there are a lot of people who don't go out. And they stay home and watch," Cooder said. "I think it's just great for people to get to see real musicians who aren't all painted up and dolled up and duded up and processed and produced and manufactured."
Directed by Win Wenders, "Buena Vista Social Club" documents the allure of traditional Cuban music and life in contemporary Havana. The film was nominated for best documentary at the Academy Awards, but lost to "One Day in September," about the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich (it premieres on HBO Sept. 11).
The film introduces viewers to a group of Cuban musicians, many in their 80s and 90s, assembled by Cooder during a 1995 trip to Havana. They recorded an album, which won a Grammy in 1998 and has sold more than 3 million copies. The film followed.
"This is an experience that, especially in this country, you just can't have so easily anymore," Cooder said. "You know, real musicians who play from inside of what their inner selves are telling them to do. I mean, this is very hard to witness this anymore, you know?"
BURNS RETURNS: He's back.
PBS's favorite impish documentary filmmaker returns in January with another opus. Wednesday at the TV critics press tour Ken Burns previewed "Jazz," his 10-part, 18 1/2-hour look at the music he calls "the soundtrack of America."
Burns quoted writer Gerald Early, who said when our civilization is studied 2,000 years from now, "Americans will be known for only three things: the Constitution, baseball and jazz music." Burns has dealt with the Constitution in various different documentaries and he devoted almost 19 hours to "Baseball" in 1994.
"In completing 'Jazz,' a study of the only art form ever invented by Americans, we have finished a trilogy of American life -- 16 years in the making -- that began with 'The Civil War,'" Burns said. "We think 'Jazz' is a particularly accurate mirror of the 20th century, so in addition to being about this extraordinary music, it is about two World Wars, a great Depression, the soundtrack that got them through."
Burns believes jazz music is a sort of underground aquifer that feeds all the music that came since, including R&B, soul and rock music. Jazz was created by African-Americans, Burns said, and much of its history is a chronicle of American race relations.
"At the heart, as certainly 'The Civil War' and 'Baseball,' the other constituent parts of the series are, we have gone into this because it speaks so much about the American fault line of race," Burns said. "It's in every subject. It's in minstrelsy, about lynching, about Jim Crow, about the Emancipation Proclamation. It's about positive movements and civil rights. It's about white people learning from black people."
NEW PROGRAMS: In addition to the January premiere of "Jazz," PBS executives announced plans for "The Blues," a documentary series executive produced by Martin Scorsese. Individual episodes will be directed by Wenders, Spike Lee and Michael Apted, among others. The series won't debut until 2002 at the earliest.
Apted's "42 Up" will make its broadcast premiere on PBS. This documentary is the latest in a series that began in 1964 with "7 Up." In that film Apted interviewed 14 children, and he's re-interviewed them several times for sequel installments to reveal how their lives have changed as they've grown.
A new two-hour PBS science program, "Beyond Human," will explore bioengineering. "Egypt: The New Kingdom" will focus on the history of Egypt from 1567 BC to 1085 BC.
On Nov. 1 at 8 p.m., "The News-Hour with Jim Lehrer" joins with "Frontline" and National Public Radio to present "Time to Choose," a live three-hour broadcast designed as a voters guide that will examine issues in five cities across the country.
"SURVIVOR" SCHEMING: I know, I know, it's only a TV show, I shouldn't care, but I was furious with the evil Imperial Alliance of Susan, Richard, Rudy and Kelly that voted Gretchen off the island on Wednesday night's show. Gretchen was the most balanced "character" on "Survivor," demanding but fair and compassionate. She was my favorite.
Having said that, it made for a great surprise -- I'd heard rumors Gretchen would outlast them all to win the $1 million -- and from a strategic standpoint, it was a smart, ruthless move. Gretchen's level-headed nature made her a threat. But now I really want to see the alliance taken down, especially the obnoxious twosome of Susan and Richard.
REALITY SHOW DU JOUR: Although ABC's "Making the Band," about the creation of an Orlando boy band, hasn't lit a ratings fire, it is drawing a large number of teen viewers. So it's no surprise The WB network has ordered 13 episodes of "Popstars," about the making of an all-girl pop band.
The original "Popstars" became a No. 1-rated show in Australia. The American version is expected to debut in early 2001 after a nationwide search for cast members.
"STAR" DRECK: Bad news, "Star Trek" fans. Brannon Braga, who steered "Star Trek: Voyager" away from character development and any sense of its own history, has signed a new three-year deal to remain with Paramount to develop the next "Star Trek" series with longtime "Trek" guru Rick Berman. According to Daily Variety, Braga will cut back on his "Voyager" duties while prepping the new show.
"LAW & ORDER" CHANGE: As speculated earlier this summer, Steven Hill won't return to "Law & Order" this fall. Hill, who has been with the series since its first season in 1990, will be replaced by actress Diane Wiest, who will play the new district attorney.
CRITICS POLL: Electronic Media's twice-a-year critics poll revealed I'm not alone in my love of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or "Freaks and Geeks." Both series landed in the Top 10 in voting by 57 television critics from across the country.
"The Sopranos" was No. 1, followed by "The West Wing," "Malcolm in the Middle," "Buffy," "Freaks," "The Simpsons," "Once and Again," "Sports Night," "Law & Order" and "Frasier."
The Top 10 worst shows on broadcast television, according to critics, included "Shasta," "WWF Smackdown!," "Veronica's Closet," "The Mike O'Malley Show," "Wasteland," "Ladies Man," "Talk to Me," "Then Came You," "Time of Your Life" and "Ally McBeal."
TV critics will have their say again tomorrow night when the annual Television Critics Association awards are announced at a ceremony here.
Post-Gazette TV Editor Rob Owen is attending the TCA summer press tour through July 25.