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  • Originally published 08/08/2013

    Henry Louis Gates to present a PBS series exploring 5 centuries of African-American history

    BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — After a tragedy like the Trayvon Martin killing, calls routinely arise for a conversation about race.But Henry Louis Gates thinks the more direct way for structural change is through schools and their curriculum.That’s what he’s hoping will happen with “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross,” a six-hour PBS documentary series that traces 500 years of black history.“To tell the whole sweep of African-American history — no one’s tried to do that. That was what we were crazy enough to do,” Gates said in an interview on Wednesday....

  • Originally published 07/25/2013

    'Drunk History' puts intoxicated twist on history

    NEW YORK (AP) — To hear comedian Derek Waters tell it, the idea for ‘‘Drunk History’’ came about when ‘‘New Girl’’ actor Jake Johnson had a few drinks and was trying to tell him a passionate anecdote about the late singer Otis Redding.‘‘He was trying to tell me that Otis Redding knew he was gonna die. I didn’t really buy the story,’’ Waters said in a recent interview, ‘‘but he was so passionate about it and he wasn’t able to articulate everything. I just kept picturing Otis Redding reacting to this guy (Johnson) telling a story about how he knew he was gonna die and I thought, ‘That would be cool to reenact.'’’ (Redding was killed in a plane crash in 1967.)Soon after, Waters and director Jeremy Konner were making Internet shorts. They filmed actor Mark Gagliardi getting drunk and reciting a historical story that was a bit messy because of the alcohol. A celebrity would then act out the story, complete with hiccups, slurring or other signs of an inebriated storyteller.The videos were posted to the website FunnyorDie.com in late 2007. Celebrity participants included Johnson, Michael Cera, Nick Offerman and Ryan Gosling....

  • Originally published 01/31/2013

    Jon Wiener: 'The Americans': Soviet Spies on Cable TV

    Jon Wiener teaches U.S. history at UC Irvine. His most recent book is How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey across America. The best thing about “The Americans,” the new spy show on FX cable TV, is that the Soviet spies are not Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.  They are a different married couple--Russians, sent by the KGB from Moscow to Washington DC.  The show begins shortly after Reagan takes office....If Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin of “Homeland” had been assigned to this case, they would have caught Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, the stars of “The Americans,” in episode one.Ron Radosh, David Horowitz & Co. will be unhappy with this show (of course they are unhappy about so many things) because the spies in question are not American communists.  They do have a point there – the most successful Soviet spies in the US were not Russians.  I’m not talking here about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.  Historians today pretty much agree that Julius was a spy but he didn’t give the Soviets the secret of the A-bomb; Ethel was innocent but was framed by her brother, David Greenglass, because the FBI threatened to indict his own wife....

  • Originally published 01/25/2013

    After ‘Spartacus’ Ends, There’s a Chance Caesar May Take His Place

    The posters for “Spartacus: War of the Damned” promise that the newest batch of episodes will take viewers to the bitter end. But at last night’s premiere for the final season of the series, “Spartacus” creator Steven S. DeKnight was already thinking about the future.DeKnight told Speakeasy that some preliminary talks are already underway to possibly spinoff a series focusing on Gaius Julius Caesar, who in “Spartacus” is played by Australian actor Todd Lasance. “It’s in the early conversations of a possibility. Rob Tapert, my producing partner and I, we love this world we’ve created together, and we would love to spin it off in some direction with the same style and the same feel as the show. Caesar is definitely a strong possibility.”...