The new Ken Burns effect: How 'National Parks' will change the game

Jason Cochran of was honored to sit down with Ken Burns, a master storyteller and historian who has contributed immeasurably to our collective understanding of our country's past, and to ask him what he wants to accomplish through PBS' 12-hour The National Parks: America's BestIdea, which kicks off on Sunday, September 27 and runs until October 4. Burns tells us he won't be satisfied unless park rangers across the country get "mad at me." And, unlike those interviewers Matt Lauer and Bob Schieffer, we couldn't let Burns get away without asking The Question: Just what's it like to have an "effect" named after you? Watch our video conversation and find out.

Burns is the master of the documentary. His many PBS series, which plumb the human stories behind great Americana, have become, in their way, indelible. A generation of Americans has learned from him much of what they know about topics such as the Civil War and the histories of baseball, jazz, and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Burns' latest epic undertaking, For the people who were dazzled by the big-screen sumptuousness of 2006's nature docu-series Planet Earth, Burns' mini-series is event television filled with soaring images filmed as far-flung as Gates of the Arctic in far north Alaska and the Dry Tortugas, near the coast of Cuba.

But aside from the visual pageantry of our gorgeous natural wonders, the series is also a story about the nearly transcendental beauty of our country's wildest lands. By laying out tales of people who have been spiritually transformed by the parks, Burns also presents the case that the preservation of public lands is essential to the health of the United States.

The sanctification of the parks marked, as he says, the first time in human history that a government set aside its treasures for the mutual ownership of its people and not for the hoarding of its aristocracy. They are a gift given equally to rich and poor. This year, as Americans argue over the perils of socialism, the endurance and value of the national parks is a stirring counter-example that few people would begrudge.
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