Even if a PBS biography series doesn't profile its subjects entirely “In Their Own Words,” enough of those words are included to satisfy the program's purpose.
Introduced in 2015 with portraits of Queen Elizabeth II, Muhammad Ali and Jim Henson, the show begins its second round Tuesday. Then continuing July 27 and Aug, 8, its featured figures include Pope Francis, music icon Chuck Berry and Princess Diana (with episodes on former President Jimmy Carter, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and entrepreneur Elon Musk coming this fall). Observers and acquaintances contribute much of the commentary backing the archival footage and enhanced graphics, but the words of the showcased legends meant to be stressed are shown in text.
“The conceit was always that we were going to bookend important moments of their lives with words and quotes they pushed forward,” executive producer Chuck Dalaklis says. “Because we are covering not only people who are living but people who have passed, we made the choice not to do first-person interviews (with any of the main subjects). And we've had the opportunity to do that a couple of times.”
Instead, people on the order of John Travolta, David Letterman, President George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, Keith Richards, Garth Brooks and Ambassador Andrew Young were interviewed for “In Their Own Words.”
“Sitting down with Keith Richards for two hours to discuss his career, and how Chuck Berry influenced it, was a highlight that I cannot even begin to emphasize enough for you,” Dalaklis says. “Biography and documentary programming is at an all-time high, and a lot of people are doing these things. I have found with almost every person we have attempted to (interview), when we have told them these are PBS biographies, they have come back with, 'We love these people and want to talk about them' and 'We know that PBS will do justice to their lives.' ”
Dalaklis says the six-year gap between “In Their Own Words” seasons owes to the planning, preparation and production of the six new episodes being “a monolithic, mammoth process, to get these things into the shape where you're telling someone's full life story in 55 minutes. It's hard, and as a team, we had to sit down and say, 'What is the theme here? What is the honest arc?' ”