PBS de­lays ‘ Your Roots’ re­turn

Third sea­son held up to as­sure Af­fleck- type scan­dal won’t be re­peated. Fourth sea­son is in doubt.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Greg Brax­ton and Stephen Battaglio

This week Henry Louis Gates Jr. once again found him­self in the mid­dle of another na­tional teach­able mo­ment about race.

The f irst time, six years ago, seemed to end am­i­ca­bly enough over beers on the White House lawn in a sum­mit with the new pres­i­dent, the Emmy Award- win­ning black Har­vard pro­fes­sor and the white po­lice of­fi­cer whose ar­rest of Gates at his Cam­bridge home caused a na­tional up­roar over polic­ing and race.

But in the wake of an in­ter­nal PBS re­view re­leased ear­lier this week that found Gates’ pop­u­lar ge­nealog­i­cal pro­gram “Find­ing Your Roots” im­prop­erly deleted men­tion of a slave­hold­ing an­ces­tor of ac­tor Ben Aff leck, scholars are urg­ing once again for the na­tion to face its dark history.

“What’s most im­por­tant is that we’re dis­cussing this is­sue, which is why it’s im­por­tant not to pa­per this over,” said Dar­nell Hunt, di­rec­tor of UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Cen­ter for African Amer­i­can Stud­ies. “Just be­cause Ben Aff leck didn’t want his dirty lit­tle se­cret known doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be part of the dis­cus­sion. We do our­selves a dis­ser­vice by keep­ing that out of our on­go­ing na­tional dis­cus­sion about race.”

The PBS re­view made public on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon found Gates, who hosts the pro­gram that ex­am­ines the fam­ily trees of celebri­ties, in­ap­pro­pri­ately bowed to pres­sure from Aff leck to make the ac­tor’s ge­nealog­i­cal past less con­tro­ver­sial.

Gates and his fel­low pro­duc­ers “vi­o­lated PBS stan­dards by fail­ing to shield the cre­ative and ed­i­to­rial process from im­proper inf lu­ence, and by fail­ing to in­form PBS or WNET [ the PBS mem­ber sta­tion where the pro­gram orig­i­nates] of Mr. Aff leck’s ef­forts to af­fect pro­gram con­tent,” a sum­mary of the re­view pro­vided to the media on Wed­nes­day stated.

The net­work an­nounced that it was de­lay­ing the re­turn of the show’s third sea­son, which was al­ready in pro­duc­tion. Fur­ther­more, PBS is post­pon­ing a de­ci­sion al­to­gether about a pos­si­ble fourth sea­son.

A re­turn date for the third sea­son of “Find­ing Your Roots” will not be set un­til PBS is as­sured the same mis­take will not be re­peated, said net­work of­fi­cials. PBS or­dered “cor­rec­tive mea­sures” for Sea­son 3, which in­cluded hir­ing more re­searcher/ fact- check­ing help and ob­tain­ing an in­de­pen­dent ge­neal­o­gist to re­view pro­grams for ac­cu­racy.

The net­work said a de­ci­sion about a pos­si­ble fourth sea­son is be­ing de­ferred un­til “con­fi­dence” has been re­stored in the pro­gram’s ed­i­to­rial in­tegrity. One PBS ex­ec­u­tive not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the mat­ter pub­licly be­lieved that the un­cer­tain fate of the fourth sea­son is “a big slap” at Gates.

The net­work’s ex­ec­u­tives are not ex­pected to make a de­ci­sion on the fourth sea­son un­til the spring of 2016. They will likely gauge viewer and mem­ber- sta­tion re­ac­tion be­fore or­der­ing an ad­di­tional sea­son.

That could hurt Gates, who is­sued an apol­ogy Wed­nes­day, from an eco­nomic stand­point. Pro­gram sup­pli­ers typ­i­cally want or­ders for as many episodes as pos­si­ble, as ad­vanced plan­ning helps them get the most out of their bud­gets. In­stead, he’ll have to gear up pro­duc­tion again af­ter a long hia­tus. But even if “Find­ing Your Roots” goes away, Gates — the man be­hind the net­work’s award­win­ning 2013 his­tor­i­cal se­ries “The African Amer­i­cans: Many Rivers to Cross” — is ex­pected to con­tinue mak­ing doc­u­men­tary pro­grams for PBS, the ex­ec­u­tive noted.

“Find­ing Your Roots” be­came em­broiled in con­tro­versy ear­lier this year when hacked emails sur­faced on Wik­iLeaks in which Gates lamented to a top Sony boss that Af­fleck was push­ing for the PBS show to re­move con­tent about the slave owner in his fam­ily tree. The episode did not dis­cuss the rel­a­tive and fo­cused on other mem­bers of Aff leck’s fam­ily.

Aff leck apol­o­gized in April for his role in the sit­u­a­tion, say­ing, “I was em­bar­rassed. The very thought [ of such an an­ces­tor] left a bad taste in my mouth.” The ac­tor has not re­acted pub­licly to PBS’ de­ci­sion this week to de­lay Gates’ show or to delet­ing his episode from fur­ther air­ings.

Slav­ery is an is­sue the Gates pro­gram has con­fronted many times in its pre­vi­ous two sea­sons. Other prom­i­nent guests have had to face a di­rect and of­ten un­com­fort­able link to Amer­ica’s slave­hold­ing past.

Last sea­son, Gates pre­sented New York Yan­kee Derek Jeter, CNN an­chor An­der­son Cooper and f ilm­maker Ken Burns with doc­u­men­ta­tion that un­cov­ered fam­ily mem­bers who owned slaves in past cen­turies.

“I know Ken was hor­ri­fied to have a Con­fed­er­ate an­ces­tor, and I go, ‘ Aw, man, it’s OK,’ ” said Gates in an in­ter­view with The Times last year about the se­ries. “Here I am a black man com­fort­ing white peo­ple about hav­ing a Con­fed­er­ate an­ces­tor.

“We’re not judg­ing any­one,” added Gates, whose 2013 his­tor­i­cal se­ries “The African Amer­i­cans: Many Rivers to Cross” won an Emmy. “There were a lot of peo­ple that owned slaves. There were black peo­ple that owned slaves. And most of the peo­ple who didn’t own slaves didn’t own them not for any moral rea­sons but be­cause they couldn’t af­ford them.”

Jor­dan Strauss I nvision/ As­so­ci­ated Press

BEN AF­FLECK asked PBS show “Find­ing Your Roots” to not men­tion an an­ces­tor owned slaves.

Fred­er­ick M. Brown Getty I mages

HENRY LOUIS GATES JR., “Roots” host, bowed to pres­sure from Aff leck, an in­ter­nal PBS re­view found.

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