This four-part, eight-hour series will chronicle the life and times of Lyndon Johnson, one of the most capable, colorful and controversial men ever to occupy the White House. No president’s ambition was more naked than his, and no president’s ambitions for his country were more lofty.
Johnson took office as an “accidental” president after the assassination of John F. Kennedy and determined immediately to make himself a great president in his own right. He declared “War on Poverty,” and pledged to build a more just, more prosperous “Great Society.“ Then, employing the legislative mastery and legendary powers of persuasions he’d honed as a Congressman, Senator and Majority Leader, he pushed through Congress a blizzard of laws that included Medicare and Medicaid, Head Start and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that did more to empower African Americans than any legislation since the enactment of the 14th Amendment nearly a century earlier. In the end, among 20th century presidents, only Franklin Roosevelt, the hero of Johnson’s youth, could match his record of domestic achievement.
A proud Texan, the first southerner to live in the White House since Woodrow Wilson, Johnson was a fascinating blend of qualities, awful and admirable. He was, one veteran observer wrote, “everything that is human.” He could be cruel, vulgar, self-pitying, duplicitous. He was also generous, loyal and sometimes courageous, willing to expend his and his party’s political capital for the greater good of the country.
Sadly, the skills that worked so well for him on Capitol Hill proved useless to him overseas. He inherited a war in South Vietnam, greatly expanded it – and then could find no way to win or end it. In 1968, growing anger over the war and violence in big city streets led him to decide not to run for a second full term. He returned to his Texas ranch the following year and died in 1973. This mini-series will provide an intimate look at a larger-than-life statesman whose story is Shakespearean, filled with both tragedy and great triumphs.
Directed and produced by Ken Burns, Lynn Novick & Sarah Botstein, written by Geoffrey C. Ward, and executive produced by Burns, LBJ & the Great Society is slated for broadcast on PBS in 2027. (8 hours)