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Ken Burns Shows Another Side of Jackie Robinson

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On April 11-12,PBS airs the four-hour documentary Jackie Robinson, from Ken Burns, his daughter Sarah Burns and her husband David McMahon. The seeds for the project were planted two decades ago, when Ken interviewed Robinson’s widow, Rachel, for his Baseball documentary. Years later, Sarah says, Rachel asked Ken about digging further into her husband’s life.

The filmmakers got three interviews with Rachel. “She became the heart and soul of the film,” says Sarah Burns.

Countless films and books have focused on Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier in 1947, but Jackie Robinson is more about his off-field persona, including his civil rights and political activism. “So much of the coverage focuses on a very narrow slice of his life,” says Sarah. “We felt there was more to the story.”

Robinson is celebrated for turning the other cheek to his haters, but that was just part of his character. “We were very interested in what he said,” says McMahon, “not just what he didn’t say.”

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.