Ken Burns: $10 million spent to promote his WW II series





Notice something different about your current Bank of America statement? "Bank of America is a proud sponsor of THE WAR, a Ken Burns film," it says, in even bigger print than your balances.

Or reach for an orange. It might be one of the 25 million that bear a message urging citrus lovers to watch "The War," Burns's seven-part, 16-hour documentary about World War II, which begins airing on PBS next Sunday. WGBH will broadcast it locally.

"If you make a good film and nobody knows it's on, was it good?" Burns asks, sitting in his office in a converted barn behind his house in this small New Hampshire town. "The answer is no."

Ever since an estimated 40 million people watched "The Civil War" on PBS in 1990, each successive mega-documentary from Burns has been a very big deal: the 18 hours of "Baseball" in 1994, then the 19 hours of "Jazz" in 2001. There have also been eight (relatively) smaller documentaries, on subjects from the American past including the rise of radio, Lewis and Clark, and heavyweight champion Jack Johnson.

"The War" has gotten a buildup bigger than all of them put together. PBS and the series's corporate sponsors - General Motors and Anheuser-Busch, as well as Bank of America - have spent an estimated $10 million publicizing the documentary.


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