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TCA 2011: Ken Burns on 'Prohibition' and 'Boardwalk Empire'

August 1, 2011 |  7:45 am

TCA 2011: Ken Burns on 'Prohibition' and 'Boardwalk Empire'

"Prohibition," an upcoming documentary from filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick about the nation's ill-fated attempt to ban alcohol, will almost certainly run up against HBO's booze-soaked Prohibition-era drama "Boardwalk Empire" this fall.

Burns, speaking to reporters at the TV press tour in Beverly Hills Sunday evening, said he wasn't worried about the competition - and then confessed he watched the acclaimed program which garnered 18 Emmy nominations. (The new three-part, six-hour Burns documentary is slated to launch Sunday, October 2, while HBO's period drama airs Sunday nights - meaning the two programs that revolve around alcohol could overlap for half an hour or so.) 

"I've really enjoyed watching it," he said. "Americans always love to watch people who get to kill people who piss them off."

"And women who take their clothes off at the drop of a hat," added the documentarian.

TCA 2011: Full coverage of upcoming shows from the Television Critics Press Tour

Burns said that while the fevered drive to pass the 18th Amendment parallels aspects of the politics of our day - single-issue movements, the "tea party," lack of civil discourse, the debate over marijuana, etc., -the documentary has no overt agenda.

"We are not political filmmakers," said Burns who encourages the audience to draw their own conclusions about the relevancy of the bygone era with today. "We don't have a political ax to grind."

Ultimately, added Burns, the effort to outlaw alcohol failed miserably. Among other things, it turned half the nation into lawbreakers and created organized crime.

And, you know, led to that HBO show, too.  


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-- Martin Miller

Photo: Left to right, Ken Burns, Daniel Okrent and Lynn Novick at TV press tour. Credit: Rahoul Ghose / PBS