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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Biography > Politics > The Presidents (American Experience/PBS Home Video DVD Box Set)

The Presidents (American Experience/PBS Home Video DVD Box Set)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C+     Episodes: B+



So much revisionist and limited information about political parties, history and the American Presidency in general have been bantered about for so long that it is good when someone comes up with the historical facts (especially when well researched and thorough) as the great PBS series American Experience has from time to time.  They have now covered enough chapters of “the most powerful man in the world” that they have issued a 12-DVD box set simply and boldly called The Presidents.


It is on the heavy side with 10 slender cases covering 10 of the heads of the country and includes coverage of:


Theodore Roosevelt

Woodrow Wilson

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR)

Harry Truman (Truman)

John F. Kennedy (The Kennedys)

Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ)

Richard Milhous Nixon (Nixon)

Jimmy Carter

Ronald Reagan (Reagan)

George H.W. Bush



The programs are thorough, fair, not slanted, sometimes do not go far enough on certain situations or items and are not to be taken as total portraits, yet they are fine ways to begin to really delve into their subjects and meet the high standards this TV series has had since its premiere.  Having seen all of them at one point or another, seeing them again impressed me because they all hold up very well, built to last unlike most of the TV made today including some awkward would-be educational programming that fall short too often.  For the record, the oldest programs go back to 1990.


The various aspect ratios are about even in their picture quality, with most being 1.33 X 1 offering some minor aliasing errors, digititis, softness and depth issues, while the anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 presentations for the Carter and H. W. Bush programs.  They tend to be downtrades from their HD origins that have Video Black that is off and would look better on a Blu-ray.   The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix on H. W. Bush has some of the best audio by default since he is the most recent President and the audio materials were created under the best, newest circumstances, but the soundfield is still weak and you get as many talking heads and voices as the Dolby 2.0 Stereo on all the other volumes.


Extras outside of printable PDF Teacher’s Guides on all but the Wilson volume include extras beyond that on only on two of the programs.  Wilson also features 15 mini-documentaries (aka featurettes?) on issues like strikes, Black Vote, Suffrage, The NAACP, The KKK and more, as well as profiles on key figures in his life, Jacob Riis’ stills, WWI poster gallery, interviews with the makers/scholars and a scholar’s forum on Wilson.  The Kennedys includes JFK’s Hidden Life with Robert Dallek, who wrote the biography on the President entitled An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917 – 1963 and a feature called the Kennedy Family Tree.


Since this does not cover all the Commander In Chiefs, we expect a second (all HD?) volume some day.  In the meantime, this is solid work and a great set.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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