Ken Burns has been making documentary films for more than 30 years. Since the Academy Award-nominated Brooklyn Bridge (1981), he has gone on to direct and produce some of the most acclaimed - and most watched - historical documentaries ever made, including:
Baseball (1994) — 43 million viewers
The War (2007) — 38 million viewers
The West (1996) — 29 million viewers
Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the
Corps of Discovery (1997) — 19.1 million viewers
The Civil War (1990) — 39 million viewers
Jazz (2001) — 30 million viewers
The National Parks (2009) — 33 million viewers
Prohibition (2011) — 22 million viewers
The Dust Bowl (2012) — 17 million viewers
Those numbers are for the initial broadcasts alone. Since his films receive more repeat broadcasts than any other PBS programs, the total number of viewers for the multi-episode series is easily in the hundreds of millions. As the late historian Stephen Ambrose said, "More Americans get their history from Ken Burns than any other source." A December 2002 poll conducted by Real Screen Magazine listed The Civil War as second only to Robert Flaherty's Nanook of the North as the "most influential documentary makers" of all time. In March 2009, David Zurawik of The Baltimore Sun said, "… Burns is not only the greatest documentarian of the day, but also the most influential filmmaker, period. That includes feature filmmakers like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. I say that because Burns not only turned millions of persons onto history with his films, he showed us a new way of looking at our collective past and ourselves."
Over the years, Ken and Florentine Films have received numerous awards: two Academy Award nominations, two Grammy Awards, three Peabody Awards and multiple Emmy Awards. In 2008 Ken was honored by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
In addition to the broadcasts themselves, compelling "evergreen" educational materials are developed to complement the subject matter of each film, targeting appropriate age groups and audiences as the subjects warrant. The "Ken Burns brand" has become one of the most trusted television and video resources for classroom programming in the country. The Civil War (1990) has been one of the most-used history videos in schools across the United States for nearly twenty years. Resources from The West (1996), Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery (1997), and The War (2007) are consistently the "most-searched-for" by teachers. On average, in 2009 alone, each of the websites for Ken's films received over 1 million page views each month. In April 2009 - more than 12 years after its original broadcast — Lewis & Clark was the most-searched-for site on www.pbs.org.
Ken Burns's films have also proven to be incredibly cost-efficient in terms of reaching Americans with the quality history they so desperately want. His most recent series, Tenth Inning (2010), was produced at a cost of $5 million and amassed a viewership (in its initial broadcast) of 7.7 million Americans. That amounts to a cost of only 65 cents per viewer. And with each subsequent broadcast, each educational viewing in classrooms, each time someone watches the Tenth Inning DVD, that per-viewer cost gets even lower.
Audience Facts & Figures:
100 million people have visited Colonial Williamsburg since it opened in 1932. 345 million people have watched just the premieres of Ken's films since The Civil War first aired in 1990.
Each year 450,000 people visit Thomas Jefferson's Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia. 13.3 million people watched the 1997 PBS broadcast of Ken Burn's Thomas Jefferson. Assuming the rate of attendance remains the same, it would take 30 years for that many people to visit Monticello.
Similarly, 70,000 people visit the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut each year. 17.8 million people watched the 2002 PBS broadcast of Mark Twain. It would take 254 years for that many people to visit the Twain House.
Reaching 22 million viewers during its initial broadcast — with a production budget of $7.36 million — the per viewer cost of Prohibition, Burns's most recent 3-part series, was 33 cents, 11 cents less than a first class postage stamp.
The work of Ken Burns provides an opportunity for a civil discourse in our increasingly divided society. An intelligent discussion of our complicated but inspiring American history can be a table around which people of every conceivable background can still have a measured and thoughtful and reasoned conversation.
The Dust Bowl
Lewis & Clark
The Civil War