Vietnam: A Television History Documentary Series Overview (1983)


Introduction

Vietnam: A Television History (1983) is a 13-part American documentary and television mini-series about the Vietnam War (1955-1975) from the perspective of the United States.

It was produced for public television by WGBH-TV in Boston, and it was originally broadcast on PBS between 04 October and 20 December 1983.

Outline

An in-depth look at the Vietnam War.

Vietnam: A Television History was the most successful documentary produced by PBS up to the time of initial broadcast. Nearly 9% of American households watched the initial episode, and an average of 9.7 million viewers watched each of the 13 episodes. A rebroadcast in the summer of 1984 garnered roughly a 4% share in the five largest US television markets.

Production

The origins of the series reach back to 1977 when filmmaker Richard Ellison and foreign correspondent Stanley Karnow discussed the project. The latter had been a journalist in Paris during the 1950s and a reporter in French Indochina since 1959. Karnow was Chief Correspondent in the series and his tie-in book, Vietnam: A History (1983), became a best-seller.

Release

Criticism

The film Television’s Vietnam: The Real Story (1985), aired on the PBS network as a rebuttal to the documentary. It was narrated by Charlton Heston and produced by Accuracy in Media.

1997 (Edited) Version

When PBS elected to rebroadcast Vietnam: A Television History as part of its American Experience series in 1997, a re-edited version was used, some 120 minutes shorter (a total of 660 minutes, as opposed to 780 minutes). This version excluded entirely episodes 02 (“The First Vietnam War”) and 13 (“Legacies”) of the original broadcast.

The editing was reportedly undertaken to remove outdated information and to create a more cohesive story for viewers. However, some viewers who remembered the original 13-episode version derogated the changes as “censorship”: they believed that they could detect a “corrective” treatment of the material that involved cutting out politically objectionable scenes; an interview of a French colonel discussing the end of the siege at Dien Bien Phu and referring to the Viet Minh as “Red Termites”; an interview of a man recalling a popular expression of that time and place in which the native plantation workers were termed “fertiliser” because so many died and were buried beneath the trees among which they toiled; and material depicting the British decision to rearm defeated Japanese soldiers at the end of World War II to use them against the Vietnamese. No evidence was presented that PBS executives edited the series for political purposes.

Additionally, the use of the shortened 1997 broadcast version for the 2004 DVD release of the series – rather than the entire, original, 1983 version – has not been explained.

Vietnam: A Television History Series

It was later rebroadcast as part of the PBS series American Experience from 26 May to 29 July 1997. However, only 11 of the 13 original episodes were rebroadcast, with episodes 02 and 13 being dropped (same for the 2004 DVD).

Production & Filming Details

  • Narrator(s):
    • Will Lyman … (11 episodes, 1983).
  • Director(s):
    • Bruce Palling … (1 episode, 1983).
  • Producer(s):
    • Margaret Drain … executive producer (11 episodes, 1983).
    • Richard Ellison … executive producer (11 episodes, 1983).
    • Daniel McCabe … coordinating producer (11 episodes, 1983).
    • Martin Smith … producer / associate producer (6 episodes, 1983).
    • Bruce Palling … associate producer / producer (4 episodes, 1983).
    • Elizabeth Deane … producer (3 episodes, 1983).
    • Judith Vecchione … associate producer / producer (3 episodes, 1983).
    • Serge Gordey … associate producer (2 episodes, 1983).
    • Marilyn Hornbeck … associate producer / executive producer (2 episodes, 1983).
    • Austin Hoyt … associate producer / producer (2 episodes, 1983).
    • Andrew Pearson … producer (2 episodes, 1983).
    • Henri de Turenne … producer / producer: France (2 episodes, 1983).
    • Marilyn Mellowes … co-executive producer (1 episode, 1983).
    • Karen Sheldon … associate producer (1 episode, 1983).
    • Tuggelin Yourgrau … associate producer (1 episode, 1983).
  • Writer(s):
    • Elizabeth Deane … (writer) (3 episodes, 1983).
    • Richard Ellison … (writer) (1 episode, 1983).
    • Austin Hoyt … (writer) (3 episodes, 1983).
    • Marilyn Mellowes … (writer) (1 episode, 1983).
    • Bruce Palling … (writer) (1 episode, 1983).
    • Andrew Pearson … (writer) (1 episode, 1983).
    • Martin Smith … (writer) (3 episodes, 1983).
    • Judith Vecchione … (writer) (1 episode, 1983).
  • Music:
    • Mickey Hart … (12 episodes, 1983).
    • Bill Kreutzmann … (12 episodes, 1983).
    • George Gousis … (1 episode, 1983).
  • Cinematography:
  • Editor(s):
    • Carol Hayward … (2 episodes, 1983).
    • Eric Neudel … (2 episodes, 1983).
    • Mavis Lyons Smull … (2 episodes, 1983).
    • Glen Cardno … (1 episode, 1983).
    • Paul Cleary … (1 episode, 1983).
    • Daniel Eisenberg … (1 episode, 1983).
    • Eric Handley … (1 episode, 1983).
    • Jonathan Morris … (1 episode, 1983).
    • Ruth Schell … (1 episode, 1983).
    • Julian Ware … (1 episode, 1983).
  • Production:
    • Central Independent Television.
    • France 2 (FR2) (as Antenne-2 France).
    • WGBH.
  • Distributor(s):
    • American Experience (1997) (USA) (TV).
    • Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) (1983) (USA) (TV).
    • Sony Corporation of America (1987) (USA) (VHS).
    • TDK Core (Japan) (VHS).
  • Release Date: 04 October 1983 to 20 December 1983.
  • Rating: Unknown.
  • Running Time: 60 minutes.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

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