Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Ken Burns on the origins of Country Music

Bill Monroe
Photo: Courtesy of Les Leverett Collection, Grand Ole Opry Archives

Here’s what’s happening in the world of television for Sunday, September 15. All times are Eastern. 


Top pick

Country Music (PBS, 8 p.m): The latest from Ken Burns and his team begins tonight. So pull your boots on, because there’s a 16-hour ride ahead.

Country Music begins with “The Rub,” an episode covering the origins of the genre as we understand it—with music by influential figures like Fiddlin’ John Carson, DeFord Bailey, Uncle Dave Macon, and singers of gospel music, spirituals, and traditional songs from all over the world. When we spoke with Burns at the Television Critics Association press tour in July, he pinpointed two artists specifically—well, an artist, and a family.

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“It’s so emotional to me,” Burns said. “I just think it’s such an important story, because it’s [a genre] so imprisoned by the superficial reality and conventional wisdom that we impose on it as being only one thing. And even at its big bang, it’s not one thing. It’s two things. It’s Jimmie Rodgers on Saturday night, and the Carter Family on Sunday morning. It’s a tension that exists in jazz and blues and R&B, but it’s there [in country music] from the beginning. And then country goes looking for every other art form it can grab onto. I love the fact that it’s not one thing. It’s about a warm embrace of a lot of different traditions.”

The documentary is as sprawling as the genre—and it’s also every bit as good as you’d expect from Burns. The first two hours air tonight, with all other installments airing over the course of the next two weeks.

Regular coverage

The Affair (Showtime, 9 p.m.)
Succession (HBO, 9 p.m)
Preacher (AMC, 10:05 p.m.)
The Righteous Gemstones (HBO, 10 p.m)
On Becoming A God In Central Florida (Showtime, 10 p.m)

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Wild card

The Masked Singer: Super Sneak Peek (FOX, 8:02 p.m.): It’s not quite fair to say that you’re either buying what The Masked Singer is selling or you’re not, because we are not, but we also can’t quite turn away.

If you are buying—or, like us, you can’t stop watching anyway—a “Super Sneak Peek” airs tonight, which includes looks at the second season’s costumes, some early hints to send you furiously tearing through Wikipedia, and at least one very good reason to use the mute button with some frequency.

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