Calling their 14-hour portrait of the Roosevelts "an intimate history, not a tabloid" one, filmmaker Ken Burns and writer Geoffrey Ward promised Tuesday the most extensive film ever produced on a family that's had its share of them over a century. "They were deeply flawed, inspirational, complicated human beings," Burns said of his subjects -- Franklin, his wife Eleanor and Theodore, her uncle and Franklin's distant cousin -- but "nothing has ever been done [on film] that unites them in a family drama."
"The Roosevelts: An Intimate History" -- which will air over a seven-night stretch beginning Sept. 14 and is easily PBS' marquee programming event of the year -- covers a little over a century (from 1858, when Teddy was born) to 1962 (the year of Eleanor's death), and drew upon an enormous trove of archival material including -- Burns said -- 25,000 still photographs. Meryl Streep will provide the voice of Eleanor, Paul Giamatti, TR, and Edward Herrmann, FDR.
Speaking at the TV Critics' Press Tour in Beverly Hills, California, Burns explained that the Roosevelts had central roles in many of the films he and longtime collaborator Ward have produced over the years, a reason why they decided to devote this one to all three. But rather than approach the tangled relationships of the three through straight biography, "we're trying to understand [them] from the inside out rather than top down."
Burns and Ward said they collected a vast archive of film and non-film material -- much of which doesn't make it into "Intimate History" -- which they donated to the various institutions devoted to study of the Roosevelts, including Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay.