Ken Burns has been PBS’ go-to documentary director since he unleashed the documentary mini-series Baseball way back in 1994.  Since then he’s made similar series on jazz, national parks, and World War II.  So Burns is a name in which people are familiar, but that doesn’t mean his documentaries can’t benefit from the premiere of a critically-acclaimed, popular series on HBO.  PBS is taking advantage of the subject matter of “Prohibition” to coincide with the second-season premiere of Boardwalk Empire, to get the jump on the buzz.  The first episode will be available through iOS apps on September 23, two days before the Prohibition-era drama hits HBO.

After that, the series makes its debut on PBS and will be streamed live through its site on October 2-4.  Each episode will be available through the site the day after its airing, and then it quickly makes its way over to DVD and iTunes.  PBS is apparently getting a lot of mileage out of its iOS apps, seeing more than 52 million streaming views just last month.  It’s good to see an institution like PBS, which has been considered outdated, using new media to get its shows out there, and they’re finding success through it.

Boardwalk Empire and Prohibition Go Hand-In-Hand

Ken Burns’ documentary, co-directed by Lynn Novick, will take a look at the emergence of the 18th Amendment, its rule beginning in 1919 and its subsequent demise in 1933.  It will take a look at the people and the community that shaped the controversial laws and what eventually led to its downfall.  As this blurb on the PBS website says:

Prohibition turned law-abiding citizens into criminals, made a mockery of the justice system, caused illicit drinking to seem glamorous and fun…

This new series offers a great companion piece to a show that garnered over 10 million viewers an episode through various HBO airings (live, reruns, On Demand).  Boardwalk Empire‘s first episode, directed by Martin Scorsese, earned the legendary film director his first Emmy, something PBS vet Burns has won 4 times.

The lead in Boardwalk Empire is Atlantic City treasurer Nucky Thompson, played by Steve Buscemi.   Nucky is based on the real-life corrupt Republican boss Enoch L. Johnson.  PBS and HBO recently banded together at a luncheon to discuss the fact and fiction around the two shows.

Here’s the trailer for Prohibition:

If you’re a fan of Boardwalk Empire, give the new Burns documentary a look.  It looks really good.  It should give some perspective when watching the new season on HBO.