It's a packed fall on PBS, but for a quick orientation: "The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross," Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s portrait of black Americans over four centuries, is the centerpiece of the schedule, falling largely in November. As is John F. Kennedy, as PBS marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination with four special programs. But there is so much more. A quick overview:
The Hollow Crown (WNET/13, Fridays at 9 p.m., through Oct. 11) Four of Shakespeare's not-often-aired history plays -- "Henry IV, Part 1" (this Friday), "Henry IV, Part 2" (Oct. 4), "Henry V" (Oct. 11) -- will be presented this month and next. ("Richard II" aired Friday.)
The Paradise (WNET/13, Oct. 6-Nov. 17, 9 p.m.; WLIW/21 Oct. 21, 8 p.m. Part 1; Oct 28, 9 p.m. Part 2; and Mondays in November) This BBC production of an adaptation of Émile Zola's novel (described by "Masterpiece Classic" as "a rags-to-riches story of a young woman seduced by the dangerous charms of the modern world") stars Joanna Vanderham and Emun Elliott.
Brooklyn Castle (WNET/13, Oct. 7, 10 p.m.) About Intermediate School 318 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which has won more than 30 national junior high chess championships.
Frontline -- League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis (WNET/13, Oct. 8, 8 p.m.) This joint investigation had been conducted with ESPN, until the latter pulled out, prompting some speculation in the press that the NFL had pressured the network to drop its role in the telecast. Per "Frontline," this three-hour special was reported by Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada and focuses on "the health crisis that threatens the richest, most powerful sports league in the world."
Nova -- Megastorm Aftermath (WNET/13, Oct. 9, 9 p.m.; WLIW/21, Oct. 10, 9 p.m.) A year after devastation wrought by Sandy, "Nova" explores all the questions -- was it a freak storm? Will more come? Can people better prepare themselves for the next one?
Superheroes: A Never-ending Battle (WNET/13, Oct. 15, 8 p.m.) PBS gives over the night to comic book fans everywhere, with this three-hour exploration of why superheroes have invaded our consciousness and culture, or "how disposable diversions that once cost a dime became the foundation for a multi-billion-dollar industry."
The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (WNET/13, Oct. 22, 29 and Nov. 5, 12, 19 and 26; 8 p.m.) Gates, a familiar presence on PBS ("Finding Your Roots," "Faces of America"), takes viewers on a 500-year tour, beginning with "The Black Atlantic" (Oct. 22), about the origins of the slave trade; "The Age of Slavery" (Oct. 29), covering the years 1800-60; "Into the Fire" (Nov. 5), the Civil War and Reconstruction; "Making a Way Out of No Way" (Nov. 12), the Jim Crow era; "Rise!" (1940-1968), civil rights (Nov. 19); and "It's Nation Time" (Nov. 26), in which "now we ask: How will African Americans help redefine the United States in the years to come?"
American Masters -- Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train A Comin' (WNET/13, Nov. 5, 9 p.m.) With "unseen" performance footage, even home movies, family letters, drawings, photos to create a new portrait of Hendrix.
American Experience -- JFK (WNET/13, Nov. 11, 9 p.m.) The assassination anniversary will be covered in four separate broadcasts, beginning with this one, billed as a "fresh assessment" of the 35th president. Includes interviews of LBJ biographer Robert Caro. Next, "Nova" ("Cold Case JFK," Ch. 13, Nov. 13, 9 p.m.) explores whether modern investigative techniques may have improved upon the original investigation; and "Secrets of the Dead" ("One O'Clock," Ch. 13, Nov. 13, 10 p.m.) offers a minute-by-minute overview of the immediate aftermath. Finally, "Frontline" ("Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald?" Ch. 13, Nov. 19, 9 p.m.) further investigates the biography of the assassin.
Barbra Streisand: Back to Brooklyn (WNET/13, Nov. 29, 9 p.m.) Streisand returns home to perform at Barclays Center.
American Masters -- Marvin Hamlisch: The Way He Was (WNET/13, Dec. 27, 9 p.m.) Profiling the three-time Oscar winner who became "the go-to composer for film and Broadway and the go-to performer for every president since Reagan."