clock menu more-arrow no yes

Why Ken Burns won’t leave PBS for HBO

“I’m at the dance with them that brung me and I think I’m leavin’ with them,” the co-director of “The Vietnam War” says.

If you buy something from a Vox link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Director/producer Ken Burns speaks onstage during “The Vietnam War” premiere. Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Every single one of Ken Burns’s documentaries has run on public television in the U.S. — and that’s not going to change, even though docs are booming on digital platforms.

“I’m at the dance with them that brung me and I think I’m leavin’ with them,” Burns said on the latest episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka.

Burns co-directed the new 18-hour documentary series “The Vietnam War” with Lynn Novick, who previously worked with him on “Prohibition,” “Baseball” and “The War,” a 2007 series about World War II. He said they’re loyal to PBS because of the values of public broadcasting, but also because they doubt a private company like Amazon or HBO would invest in the lengthy creation time of each series (10-and-a-half years, in the case of “The Vietnam War”).

“I was with the head of HBO, who’s a friend — Richard Plepler,” Burns said. “And someone said, ‘Why isn’t Ken with you?’ And he paused for a second. I just filled the void: ‘Because you wouldn’t spend as much as we spent over 10 years.’ And that’s the point here.”

You can listen to the new podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

“The Vietnam War” will be available to stream on Netflix and other online platforms, Burns noted. But on the new podcast, he said he doesn’t want one of those platforms to be able to tell him how to do his work.

“There would be a suit, or maybe an open-collared person, who would say, ‘You know what? Too long. Too short. Not sexy enough. Too sexy. Too violent. Not violent enough,’” he said. “Every single film I’ve made for public television has been my director’s cut.”

“I want you to watch my film, because I can say to you, ‘If you don’t like it, it’s all my fault,’” he added. “I know lots of friends in Hollywood who say, ‘Well, they wouldn’t let me use this actress or I wanted to go with this writer, or I wanted to have this scene, but no.’”

The first five episodes of “The Vietnam War” will be available to stream online starting Sunday, Sept. 17, and will be broadcast nightly on PBS over the course of that week. After that, the remaining five installments will be spaced out on TV, airing one episode per week.

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with the movers and shakers in tech and media every Monday. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • Too Embarrassed to Ask, hosted by Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode, answers all of the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • And finally, Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, such as the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on Apple Podcasts— and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Peter. Tune in next Thursday for another episode of Recode Media!


This article originally appeared on Recode.net.