Ken Burns to update baseball film


WALPOLE, N.H. -- Distinguished filmmaker Ken Burns is taking one of his classic pieces out of the vault to update the series for 2010.

Burns, the Walpole resident known for his award-winning films such as "Jazz" and "The Civil War," is rejuvenating his PBS documentary "Baseball" to bring the well-known series up to the 2009 major league season. The Emmy Award-winning film debuted in 1994 and was seen by more than 48 million viewers.

"We're very excited about this project, it's got some great energy to it," said Burns in an interview with the Reformer.

Originally broken into nine segments (one for each inning in a baseball game), Burns said he will update the film with "The Tenth Inning," focusing on the player strike in 1994, the New York Yankees dynasty and the team's new stadium, the role of the game following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the revival of the Boston Red Sox and the emergence of Latin American and Asian players in the major leagues.

According to Burns, the updated portion will also include the so-called steroid era in America's Pastime when the use of performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball tested the loyalty of many fans from coast to coast.

In the aftermath of steroids, baseball now has the toughest drug-testing policies of any major sport, said Burns, and the game has never been more successful or profitable.

"We thought it was important to deal with it, but now I think we're thrilled to be able to report that we are on the backside of the story," he added.

The film will also feature interviews from several well-known players, including longtime Cleveland Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel and Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, former Yankees and current Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre and writers Marcos Breton and Howard Bryant.

Interviewees from the original series, such as Roger Angell, Gerald Early and Doris Kearns Goodwin, will also return to lend their perspectives on the latest developments in the game.

Once completed, the "Tenth Inning" -- broken into a pair of two-hour programs -- will coincide with a re-broadcast of the original series. Burns said a new chapter will also appear in the book version sometime in the future.

The original documentary begins with the early forms of the game from the mid-19th century through the deadball era up until the 1992 World Series featuring the Toronto Blue Jays win over the Philadelphia Phillies, but with so much happening in the sport over the past 16 years, "I just felt it was time to revisit it again," said Burns.

"So much has transpired in baseball since we last examined the game and all of its many nuances," he said. "Above all, this new installment furthers a sense of celebration and introspection around one of our nation's greatest institutions, the seemingly simple stick and ball game whose infinite variations and possibilities have entranced our ever-changing nation for nearly 200 years."

While Burns has said he would never update any of his works, the baseball documentary always held a special place in his heart.

The game of baseball, he said, is "a story of America" and is "present in my life everyday." It is a story of race, a story of greed and corruption and triumph filled with heroes and villains and fools that covers many social aspects that are an important part of this country's history, he added.

While originally projected to premiere in the spring, Burns said it is expected to broadcast this September just as the pennant races are heating up. "We just know the broadcast will take place in the fall on public television," he said.

Burns debuted his latest film, "The National Parks: America's Best Idea," at the Bellows Falls Opera House in July 2009 to benefit the Student Conservation Association and the Walpole Historical Society.

The six-part film premiered on PBS affiliates nationwide in September and was met with great critical praise and much fanfare from nature enthusiasts.

At this point, Burns said there are no plans in the works to hold a similar debut within the region for the updated baseball documentary.

Chris Garofolo can be reached at or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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