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PBS and Thirteen/WNET New York Crank Up the Laugh Machine in An Unprecedented Chronicle of American Comedy
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Production Underway on MAKE 'EM LAUGH: THE FUNNY BUSINESS OF AMERICA, From the Creative Team Behind the Emmy Award-Winning BROADWAY: THE AMERICAN MUSICAL


Series Anticipated For Fall 2007

(PBS Press Tour: Pasadena, CA, January 14, 2006)  PBS announced today the start of production on MAKE 'EM LAUGH: THE FUNNY BUSINESS OF AMERICA, a new historical documentary series chronicling more than a century of American comedy, produced by Thirteen/WNET New York and Ghost Light Films. In the tradition of BROADWAY: THE AMERICAN MUSICAL, winner of the 2005 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Nonfiction Series  MAKE 'EM LAUGH, will meld comedy performances with biographical portraits and 20th-century history in probing what has kept America rolling in the aisles and why.

From the pratfalls that entertained immigrants in the early 1900s to the most biting satire on television today, MAKE 'EM LAUGH will feature the funniest moments in American entertainment and the great comedic talents behind their creation, including Charlie Chaplin, Jack Benny, Abbott & Costello, The Three Stooges, Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Woody Allen, George Carlin, the late Richard Pryor, Ellen DeGeneres, Jon Stewart, Chris Rock and many more.

"The success of BROADWAY has shown that a vast PBS audience appreciates the skillful combining of history, biography and performance entertainment," said Jacoba Atlas, Sr. Vice President, PBS Programming. "We expect that MAKE 'EM LAUGH, using the same successful formula, will equal or even surpass the fun and popularity of BROADWAY."

Rather than a strict chronological approach, each of MAKE 'EM LAUGH's six hour-long episodes will focus on a different style of comedy, such as knockabout physical routines, satire and lampoons, the domestic sit-com, and caustic cutting-edge stand-up,  while exploring the form's evolving relationship to America's ethnic, race and gender relations, its politics, mores and taboos.

"If comedy is anything, it's surprising; that's what makes us laugh," said Michael Kantor, series producer-director. "The goal of MAKE 'EM LAUGH is to be as surprising as comedy itself. By taking a thematic rather than a chronological approach, we hope to continue surprising viewers throughout the six episodes."

"MAKE 'EM LAUGH will not only showcase the most groundbreaking and sidesplitting American comedy, but also show how it has reflected the country's social climate in each era," said Barry Schulman, director of culture and arts programming at Thirteen and series executive producer. "It's looking at American history through the eyes of our comedic geniuses."

In addition to major funding from PBS, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Dorothy and Lewis Cullman, to date MAKE 'EM LAUGH has also received funding from Judith B. Resnick and the DuBose and Dorothy Heyward Memorial Fund. Additional funding is being sought.

MAKE 'EM LAUGH is being produced in high-definition format. The broadcast will be supported by ancillary products that include a hardcover companion book and a comprehensive interactive Web site, as well as a far-reaching educational outreach effort.

MAKE 'EM LAUGH is a co-production of Ghost Light Films and Thirteen/WNET New York. Michael Kantor is the series' producer-director. Bill O'Donnell is supervising producer; executive producers are David Horn and Barry Schulman.

PBS is a private, nonprofit media enterprise that serves the nation's 348 public noncommercial television stations, reaching nearly 90 million people each week through on-air and online content. Bringing diverse viewpoints to television and the Internet, PBS provides high-quality documentary and dramatic entertainment, and consistently dominates the most prestigious award competitions. PBS is the leading provider of educational materials for K-12 teachers, and offers a broad array of educational services for adult learners. PBS' premier kids' TV programming and Web site, PBS KIDS Online, continue to be parents' and teachers' most trusted learning environments for children. More information about PBS is available at, one of the leading dot-org Web sites on the Internet. PBS is headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia.

Thirteen/WNET New York is one of the key program providers for public television, bringing such acclaimed series as NATURE, GREAT PERFORMANCES, AMERICAN MASTERS, CHARLIE ROSE, RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, WIDE ANGLE, SECRETS OF THE DEAD and CYBERCHASE,  as well as the work of Bill Moyers,  to audiences nationwide. As the flagship public broadcaster in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut metro area, Thirteen reaches millions of viewers each week, airing the best of American public television along with its own local productions such as "The Ethnic Heritage Specials," "The Thirteen Walking Tours," "New York Voices," and "Reel New York." With educational and community outreach projects that extend the impact of its television productions, Thirteen takes television "out of the box." And as broadcast and digital media converge, Thirteen is blazing trails in the creation of Web sites, enhanced television, CD-ROMs, DVD-ROMs, educational software, and other cutting-edge media products. More information about Thirteen can be found at:


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Lisa Batchelder, Thirteen/WNET New York, 212/560-2074

Carrie Johnson, PBS, 703/739-5129;