In an election year, expect the expected on public TV, notably a bounty of election-related programming. “The Contenders,” which launched Sept. 13, is the fall linchpin, but there is more. Meanwhile, those other PBS linchpins — from nature to Ken Burns — will be well-represented, too.
Here’s a look at this fall on public TV:
DEFYING THE NAZIS: THE SHARPS’ WAR (WNET/13, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 9 p.m.) Codirected by Burns and Artemis Joukowsky, “The Sharps’ War” is about Waitstill and Martha Sharp, a Unitarian minister and his wife from Wellesley, Massachusetts, who helped save dissidents and Jewish refugees from the Nazis over a two-year period.
THE CONTENDERS 16 FOR ’16 (WNET/13, Tuesdays at 8, continuing through Nov. 1) Based on more than 100 interviews with candidates and strategists who battled for the White House, beginning in the early ’70s. Each edition offers portraits of candidates who were on opposite ends of the political spectrum but also had “common elements.” Former cable commentator and political analyst Carlos Watson hosts and produces. Week 2 (Sept. 20) profiles Howard Dean and Pat Buchanan; then, Mitt Romney and Michael Dukakis (Sep. 27); Gary Hart and Jesse Jackson (Oct. 4); Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan (Oct. 11); Ross Perot and Ralph Nader (Oct. 18); Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin (Oct. 25); and George W. Bush and Barack Obama (Nov. 1).
THE CHOICE 2016 (WNET/13, Sept. 27, 9) “Frontline” has offered stark, unvarnished portraits of the presidential candidates for many years, but this latest edition promises a little bit of varnish, calling both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump “two of the most polarizing presidential candidates in modern history.” This double profile, produced by Michael Kirk and Mike Wiser, also promises “powerful new insights at a moment when voters are being bombarded with conflicting partisan stories about each candidate.” The Trump portrait is reported by Jim Gilmore, the Clinton one by Gabrielle Schonder.
FORCES OF NATURE (WNET/13, launched Sept. 14, continuing through Oct. 5, Wednesdays at 8) This PBS/BBC coproduction will look at some of the elemental forces that changed our world and, by association, us, including “Elements” (Sept. 21); “Color” (Sept. 28); and “Motion” (Oct. 5).
AMERICAN MASTERS: NORMAN LEAR (WNET/13, Oct. 25, 9) The vastly influential creator of “All in the Family” and so much else finally gets his “Masters” portrait, titled “Just Another Version of You.”
GREAT PERFORMANCES (WNET/13, 9, Oct. 14, Oct. 21, Nov. 11) Three major “Performances” are heading your way this fall. The first, on Oct. 14, is “Grammy Salute to Music Legends”; “Hamilton’s America” (about the making of the Broadway hit), on Oct. 21; and “Gypsy,” the Styne-Sondheim classic with Imelda Staunton — you may best know her as Dolores Umbridge of “Harry Potter” fame — as Mama Rose, airing Nov. 11. (She starred in the role at London’s Savoy Theater last year.)
SOUNDBREAKING: STORIES FROM THE CUTTING EDGE OF RECORDED MUSIC (WNET/13, 10; Nov. 14-23): This eight-episode series — produced by George Martin, who died last March — explores “the impact of recorded music on the modern world.” With archival footage and interviews (150 interviews, to be exact, from Paul McCartney to Q-Tip), it charts a century of recorded music innovations.