‘Benjamin Franklin,' a Ken Burns Documentary, Airs on PBS April 4

Ken Burns film Benjamin Franklin on PBS
(Image credit: PBS)

Benjamin Franklin, a two-part documentary from Ken Burns, airs on PBS April 4-5. Mandy Patinkin voices Franklin and Peter Coyote narrates the film. 

The documentary “explores the life and work of one of the most consequential figures in American history — a prolific writer and publisher, a groundbreaking scientist and inventor, a world-renowned diplomat and a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution,” according to PBS. 

Burns directed the film. Dayton Duncan wrote the project and David Schmidt produced it. 

Franklin was born in 1706 and died in 1790. 

“Benjamin Franklin was a fascinating and complicated individual who helped shape our contemporary world,” Burns said. “If we see him for more than his long list of accomplishments, we recognize an imperfect man challenging himself and his contemporaries as he tries to understand and improve the world around him. One of the best and most prolific writers of the 18th century, Franklin both embodies and documents the dynamic social, scientific and political changes of this revolutionary age. His story is one of hope, with a faith in the common man. But his shortcomings are also a reminder of this country’s failure to address slavery at the time of its founding and the racial divisions that continue to impact our country today.” 

Scholars weighing in on Franklin in the film include Walter Isaacson, Joyce Chaplin, Clay Jenkinson and Gordon S. Wood.  

Benjamin Franklin is a production of Florentine Films and WETA Washington. The film streams for free on all station-branded PBS platforms.

Patinkin played Saul in Homeland. ■

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.