Ken Burns’s seven-part, 14-hour documentary weaves the stories of Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, three members of one of the most prominent and influential families in American politics. The series marks the first time their individual stories have been woven into a single narrative. Sunday-Saturday, September 14-20, 8:00 p.m. ET, encores at 10:00 p.m. ET
“The Roosevelts have played significant roles in other stories we’ve told before, from the National Parks to World War II,” said Burns. “It’s impossible, in fact, to visit many parts of the American experience without encountering their presence. But beyond simply sharing a bloodline or political success, they each shared a passionate belief that America is at its strongest when everyone has an equal chance. And on a personal level, they each struggled to overcome their own fears while maintaining a public face of courage.”
The Roosevelts: An Intimate History was produced with support from a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The series follows the family’s story for more than a century, from Theodore’s birth in 1858 to Eleanor’s death in 1962. Over the course of those years, Theodore would become the 26th president of the United States, and his beloved niece, Eleanor, would marry his fifth cousin, Franklin, who became the 32nd president. Together, they redefined the relationship Americans had with their government and with each other, and redefined, as well, the role of the United States within the wider world. The series encompasses all the history the Roosevelts helped to make — the creation of National Parks and the digging of the Panama Canal, the New Deal and the defeat of Hitler, and the postwar struggles for civil rights at home and human rights around the world in which Eleanor Roosevelt played a central role. But it is also an intimate human story about love and betrayal, family feeling and personal courage and the conquest of fear.
Legendary actress Meryl Streep portrays Eleanor Roosevelt in readings from her personal letters and writings. Joining Streep are Paul Giamatti as the voice of Theodore Roosevelt and Edward Herrmann, two-time Emmy Award nominee for his performance as Franklin Roosevelt, as the voice of FDR. Rounding out the cast are Patricia Clarkson, Adam Arkin, Philip Bosco, Keith Carradine, Kevin Conway, Ed Harris, John Lithgow, Josh Lucas, Carl Lumbly, Amy Madigan, Carolyn McCormick, Pamela Reed, Billy Bob Thornton and Eli Wallach.
The Roosevelts: An Intimate History is a production of Florentine Films and WETA, Washington, DC.
Young Theodore Roosevelt transforms himself into a vigorous champion of the strenuous life and later becomes the youngest president in American history at 42. Franklin Delano Roosevelt follows his older cousin’s career and begins to think he might one day follow in his footsteps. Sunday, September 14, 8:00 p.m. ET
President Theodore Roosevelt battles corporate greed, builds the Panama Canal and preserves American wilderness. FDR marries Eleanor Roosevelt, the daughter of Theodore’s brother, Elliott, and they begin a family. Offered a chance to run for the New York State senate, Franklin jumps at the chance. Monday, September 15, 8:00 p.m. ET
Theodore Roosevelt leads a Progressive crusade that splits his own party, undertakes an expedition into the South American jungle, campaigns for American entry into WWI – and pays a terrible personal price. Franklin masters wartime Washington as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, while Eleanor engages in war work. Teddy’s death provides Franklin with a golden opportunity. Tuesday, September 16, 8:00 p.m. ET
Franklin Roosevelt runs for vice president in 1920. Stricken with polio, he spends seven years struggling without success to walk again, while Eleanor builds a personal and political life of her own. FDR returns to politics in 1928 and, as governor of New York, acts with such vigor and imagination during the first years of the Great Depression that the Democrats nominate him for president in 1932. Wednesday, September 17, 8:00 p.m. ET
Aimed at ending the Depression, FDR’s sweeping New Deal restores the people’s self-confidence and transforms the relationship between them and their government. Eleanor rejects the traditional role of first lady and becomes a sometimes controversial political force. As the decade ends, FDR questions whether to run for an unprecedented third term and how to deal with the rise of Hitler. Thursday, September 18, 8:00 p.m. ET
FDR shatters the third-term tradition, struggles to prepare the country to enter World War II and after Pearl Harbor, helps set the course toward Allied victory. Meanwhile, Eleanor struggles to keep New Deal reforms alive in wartime and travels the Pacific to comfort wounded servicemen. FDR runs for a fourth term. Friday, September 19, 8:00 p.m. ET
Frail and failing but determined to see the war through to victory, FDR wins re-election and begins planning for a peaceful postwar world, but a cerebral hemorrhage kills him at 63. After his death, Eleanor proves herself a shrewd politician and a skilled negotiator, as well as a champion of civil rights, civil liberties and the United Nations. When she dies in 1962, she is widely mourned. Saturday, September 20, 8:00 p.m. ET