What History Wants You to Know About Its ‘FDR’ Docuseries
Programming SVP Mary Donohue says 32nd president’s substantial legacy offers takeaways relevant to today
History on Memorial Day (May 29) will chronicle the life of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a limited documentary series, FDR.
The three-part series, executive-produced by Bradley Cooper and based on author Doris Kearns Goodwin’s bestselling book Leadership: In Turbulent Times, uses dramatic narrative sequences, expert interviews and archival footage to follow the 32nd President as he led the country through the depression and World War II.
Along with Roosevelt's challenging presidency, the documentary charts Roosevelt’s formative years, his marriage to Elanor Roosevelt, his early political career and his personal battle with polio, according to the network.
FDR is History’s fifth presidential-themed limited series and its third to launch on Memorial Day weekend, following Grant in 2020 and Theodore Roosevelt in 2022. Grant remains the network’s most-watched nonfiction miniseries of all time, debuting with nearly 3 million viewers, per History.
History’s other two presidential docuseries, Washington and Abraham Lincoln, premiered in February 2020 and 2022, respectively.
“The presidents that we’ve chosen are truly iconic presidents who have changed our country, and their stories are impactful and meaningful,” History senior VP of development and programming Mary Donohue said. “FDR has a particular timeliness right now … people only know the surface story of his personal challenges.”
In an edited Multichannel News interview with Donohue, here's what she and History want you to know about FDR:
FDR’s accomplishments often get overlooked: “With the passage of time, people forget how hard the Depression and World War II was for the country. I think it’s really important to remind people always of moments of great peril and how people got us through. FDR’s story is always timely because of the challenges that he faced, including his affliction with polio, and how he was able to take his personal struggle with disability and use it to connect with the American people and guide them through difficult times like the depression. It’s not just his political skill and the relationships he forged, but his great gift of empathy. I’m among the group that thinks FDR truly saved democracy.”
Viewers can draw parallels to FDR's story and today: “Some people would say that we’re living in perilous times today, so in those moments it’s important to look at people who led us through turbulent times in the past and examine the ways that they led. There’s the old adage that says those who don’t understand the past are condemned to repeat it. If you look at the situation in Ukraine, one could be reminded of the beginnings of World War II. Then, there can be a climate of what can feel like intolerance for different peoples, and I think the story of what happened in the United States during World War II with the internment of the Japanese is really relevant from that perspective.”
The miniseries dovetails with the meaning of the Memorial Day holiday: “Many of us just think of Memorial Day as a three-day holiday that kicks off summer. Its true purpose is to commemorate those who died in the service of our country. It feels like a completely appropriate time to launch the FDR miniseries because he led us through World War II, one of the most perilous periods in American history.”
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.