The fall season has yet to commence for one small segment of the viewing public. For this demographic, the new season still begins and ends with PBS. If that smacks of snootiness, so be it.
Even in this chaotic 1,000 -channel universe, PBS remains the only number on the dial for some people. Now that all the shiny new network comedies, cop shows and medical dramas have nestled into the prime-time landscape, the way is clear for PBS's fall offerings to start airing, as always without commercial interruptions.
America's public broadcaster uncharacteristically worked in promos for its new fall campaign during last week's documentary series, Ken Burns's The National Parks: America's Best Idea (which was likely of minimal interest to viewers in parts of Canada where everybody grows up surrounded by the great outdoors).
The new season begins in earnest next week with the documentary Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and their Times (Monday, PBS at 9 p.m.).
Bluntly put, it's the type of program PBS does better than anyone else on television. Assembled by two-time Emmy-winner Peter Jones ( Stardust: The Bette Davis Story ), Inventing L.A. details the real-life saga of the Chandler clan, long recognized as the most powerful family in Los Angeles history, courtesy of the influence they wielded through their newspaper, The Los Angeles Times, for more than a century. You could argue that the Chandlers built the City of Angels.
Told in unhurried fashion over two hours, Inventing L.A. begins with a remarkable Horatio Alger story. The paper first came into the family's control when Harrison Gray Otis, a decorated Civil War veteran and print-press operator, was hired as editor of the struggling Times in 1882, back when Los Angeles was still an agricultural town of less than 12,000 people. In 1884, he and a partner bought the paper and its printer, and two years after that, Otis purchased his partner's share.
A sharp businessman, Otis recognized the city's exotic potential to Midwesterners looking for a fresh start and better weather. The staunch Republican hated unions and labour insurgents, referring to them as "gas-pipe ruffians" and "pollutants" - and never shied from using the Times as a recruiting tool for fresh citizenry.
"Los Angeles needs men of brain, brawn and grit," penned Otis in one of his fire-breathing editorials. "What this city does not need is loafers, paupers, cheap politicians and men with shady reputations from back East."
L.A. came of age with the popularization of the automobile, and the population quintupled with each decade. Times circulation steadily expanded and Otis remained publisher until his death in 1917, at which time his son-in-law, Harry Chandler, took over.
Otis was shrewd; Chandler was even more shrewd. "Otis used the paper as a bully pulpit for his personal political views," said Jones in an interview during this summer's TV critics tour in Los Angeles. "But Harry was more a behind-the-scenes manipulator, who made deals with a handshake. … There is absolutely no record of his business dealings."
But what a deal-maker. Chandler brokered the construction of the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Douglas Aircraft Company, the Santa Anita Racetrack and more than a dozen other venerable L.A. landmarks. He brought the 1932 Summer Olympic Games to L.A., and was the man behind the creation of the famed Hollywood sign (first erected as Hollywoodland). Another staunch Republican, Chandler helped launch Richard Nixon's political career in the late 1940s.
"Perhaps most importantly, Harry used the paper to sell L.A. to the rest of America," said Jones. "He was extremely instrumental in presenting California and L.A. as the destination for business, leisure and a new life."
And the Chandlers - whose wealth was always kept private and is believed to be beyond measure - wisely kept it in the family. The film climbs through the family tree: Harry was succeeded in 1944 by son Norman, who in 1960 passed the publisher reins to his son, Otis, who ran the business until 1980.
"The paper earned unprecedented respect under Otis, and won four Pulitzer Prizes for reporting," said Jones.
Thereafter, the publisher role went to non-family executives. Facing readership and revenue declines, the Times was sold to Tribune Media in 2000. Though a shadow of its former self, the paper's legacy, and the Chandler name, remain intact. "Like them or not," said Jones, "without the Chandlers, L.A. might still be a desert."
Other notable offerings from PBS in the months ahead: NOVA: Darwin's Darkest Hour (Oct. 6), Hubble's Amazing Rescue (Oct. 13), American Masters: Joan Baez - How Sweet the Sound (Oct. 14) and POV: Patti Smith: Dream of Life (Dec. 30). Adjust your viewing plans accordingly.