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'Pioneers of Television' celebrates extraordinary talent, themes of early television

"Pioneers of Television," a four-part series examining the inception and influence of some of the most popular genres in film and television, will premiere on the Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN) Tuesday, Jan. 18, at 7 p.m. and air in four parts on Tuesdays, Jan. 25, at 8 p.m. and Feb. 1 and 8 at 7 p.m.

  Utilizing new interviews with legendary stars, along with never-before-seen images and timeless footage that still entertains decades later, “Pioneers of Television” brings to life the fascinating history of some of the most successful and beloved shows in television. Stars such as James Garner, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, Angie Dickinson, Bill Cosby, Robert Culp, Stefanie Powers, Martin Landeau, Peter Graves, Robert Conrad, Linda Evans, Mike Connors, Fess Parker and writer Stephen J. Cannell are among those interviewed whose imprint on the iconic genres they helped create still impact the medium today.

“Pioneers of Television” depicts the beginnings of science fiction, crime dramas, Westerns and local kids’ TV and explores the stories and influence of their groundbreaking pioneers. The hour-long episodes include:

“Science Fiction” – Jan. 18, 7 p.m. This episode explores how Gene Roddenberry and Rod Serling (“The Twilight Zone”) used the future as a stage for modern morality plays, and William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols and other science-fiction stars describe how they prepared to interact on camera with a malevolent alien force.

“Westerns” – Jan. 25, 8 p.m. This episode examines the quintessential American cultural identity and the success of Robert Conrad in “The Wild Wild West,” the popularity of “Bonanza” and the creation of the classic series “Gunsmoke” with James Arness.

“Crime Dramas” – Feb. 1, 7 p.m. Groundbreaking actors Bill Cosby (“I Spy”) and Angie Dickinson (“Police Woman”) reveal the methods behind their successes as the first African-American and breakthrough female lead characters in a television series. Peter Faulk’s friends and colleagues also recall the evolution of his “Columbo” character.

“Local Kids’ TV” – Feb. 8, 7 p.m. Local kids’ programs shaped the childhoods of millions of American children in the early years of television. Performers such as Willard Scott honed their skills performing on live TV with small budgets and little support. The stories of legendary Muppets creator Jim Henson, actor Chuck McCann, Larry Harmon and Nancy Claster are shared.

“Pioneers of Television,” narrated by Kelsey Grammer, is produced for PBS by Boettcher/Trinklein Productions and is directed and produced by Steve Boettcher.

The Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN) is Arkansas’s statewide public television network that enhances lives by providing lifelong learning opportunities for people from all walks of life. AETN delivers local, award-winning productions and classic, trusted PBS programs aimed at sharing Arkansas and the world with viewers. AETN depends on the generosity of Arkansans and the State of Arkansas to continue offering quality programming. For more information, visit www.aetn.org, or follow the AETN blog at www.aetn.org/engage. AETN is broadcast on KETS (Little Rock), KEMV (Mountain View), KETG (Arkadelphia), KAFT (Fayetteville), KTEJ (Jonesboro), and KETZ (El Dorado).

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