A Whole New Ball Game: Baseball (1994) and The West (1996) as Event TV

  • Gary R. Edgerton


The initial idea for Baseball was spawned in a conversation over drinks during the early stages of the Civil War Film Project. “I was in a bar in Georgetown in 1985 with a friend and producer, Mike Hill,” remembers Ken Burns. “He mentioned baseball and all the bells went off inside. The whole time I was working on The Civil War, I knew I’d do Baseball.”2 Hill’s suggestion was that the national pastime would serve as the ideal vehicle for understanding and representing on film the kind of country that the United States had become in the century following its seminal conflict. Burns next shared his thoughts about Baseball with the well-known historian William Leuchtenberg at the Organization of American Historians (OAH) annual conference the succeeding year, when the producer-director was there to accept his second Erik Barnouw Prize for the Outstanding Documentary Film in American history for Huey Long. Burns was “concerned that baseball might seem too frivolous a subject.”3 Leuchtenburg, who had already advised the filmmaker on Huey Long and was acting in a similar capacity on The Civil War, assured him that “baseball [was indeed] a challenging subject [and that the game was] just now enjoying the kind of scholarly attention that would benefit [his] work.”4 The University of North Carolina professor “was also an avid fan and student of the game.” Thus, he agreed to write a concise outline on the history and significance of baseball as a starting point for “discussions about the architecture and thematic focus of the series” that ensued between Burns and Geoff Ward, who also signed on as head writer for the series in 1987.5


Public Broadcasting Gold Rush Creative Team World Series Public Television 
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    James Day, The Vanishing Vision: The Inside Story of Public Television (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 314–15.Google Scholar
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    Robert N. Gold, Esq., “Memorandum—The History Company,” 3 August 1993, in the resources on Baseball, Ken Burns Collection. See also John Thorn, Pete Palmer, Michael Gershman, and David Pietrusza, eds., Total Baseball: The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Baseball, 6th ed. (New York: Total Sports, 1999).Google Scholar
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    See Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, Baseball: An Illustrated History (New York: Knopf, 1994); Geoffrey C. Ward, Ken Burns, and S. A. Kramer, 25 Great Moments (Baseball, the American Epic) (New York: Random House, 1994); Geoffrey C. Ward, Ken Burns, and Jim O’Connor, Shadow Ball: The History of the Negro Leagues (Baseball, the American Epic) (New York: Random House, 1994); and Geoffrey C. Ward, Ken Burns, and Paul Robert Walker, Who Invented the Game (Baseball, the American Epic) (New York: Random House, 1994).Google Scholar
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    Elaine Santaro, “Non-Profits Win with Baseball Series,” Fund Raising Management 25.9 (November 1994), 10.Google Scholar
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    John G. Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Ogalala Sioux (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988).Google Scholar
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    Geoffrey C. Ward, The West: An Illustrated History, with a preface by Stephen Ives and Ken Burns (Boston: Little, Brown, 1996), 434.Google Scholar
  12. 122.
    See J. S. Holliday, The World Rushed In: The California Gold Rush Experience, reprint edition (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983).Google Scholar

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© Gary. R. Edgerton 2001

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  • Gary R. Edgerton

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