Tuesday, January 9, 2018
How about a true-life, rip-snorting adventure instead of the usual fare tonight?
American Experience: Into the Amazon airs at 8 p.m. today on AETN. It is a remarkable documentary about one of the most remarkable ordeals experienced by perhaps our most remarkable president.
I sat transfixed throughout the fast-moving and lushly photographed two hours.
In 1913-1914, a dangerously overweight 55-year-old Theodore Roosevelt and legendary Brazilian explorer Col. Candido Rondon made a perilous journey into the heart of the Amazon jungle to explore the River of Doubt in one of the last uncharted corners of one of the most unforgiving places on Earth.
What was anticipated to be a relatively tranquil journey turned out to be a brutal eight-week test of courage and character. It came close to killing the former president.
The crisis came deep in the rain forest on March 29, 1914, when a malaria-wracked Roosevelt summoned his son, Kermit, to his tent. After traveling on the river for a month, Roosevelt was too weak to continue. He told Kermit to go on without him.
Roosevelt, who had also badly injured his leg, begged to be left behind. He felt he had to sacrifice himself for the others to survive.
Roosevelt's fate, and the fate of the others with him, was in the hands of the 48-year-old Rondon. Fortunately, Rondon knew more about the Amazon than any man alive. His challenge -- don't let Roosevelt die in the jungle.
Having lost a bid for a third term as president in 1912, Roosevelt had been looking for an adventure to put the defeat behind him. Exploring the Amazon jungle suited him perfectly.
Roosevelt and his six-man American team had initially planned a simple hunting and collecting trip, but once in Brazil, Rondon had talked the party into exploring the much more dangerous River of Doubt instead. More than 140 men and hundreds of pack animals were assembled to carry the excess gear the 400 miles to the river.
Once on the trail, it didn't take long for excess cargo to be tossed aside. Once the final 19 men were on the rapids-bedeviled river, the dangers soon became apparent. Canoes were swamped and provisions were lost. Before the ordeal was over, one man had drowned and another had committed murder.
Roosevelt barely lived to tell the tale. He ended up gaunt, some 50 pounds lighter and leaning on a cane. He never fully recovered his previous vigor. Roosevelt died on Jan. 6, 1919, at the age of 60.
Condon lived to the venerable age of 92, dying in 1958 as one of Brazil's most beloved heroes.
The 470-mile River of Doubt (Rio da Duvida), a tributary of the Aripuana River, was renamed Rio Roosevelt.
The film features nicely crafted re-creations interspersed with archival footage, commentary from historians, authors and Roosevelt's great grandson, Tweed Roosevelt. It's narrated by Oliver Platt and features Alec Baldwin as the voice of Roosevelt, Wagner Moura as Rondon and Jake Lacy as Kermit.
• This Is Us. If you prefer your regular programs, there's good news, especially for This Is Us devotees. The long holiday hiatus is over for most of your favorites and it will be fresh episodes across the board on all the broadcast channels today except The CW.
As a reminder: ABC has The Middle, Fresh Off the Boat, blackish, The Mayor and Kevin (Probably) Saves the World; CBS presents NCIS, Bull and NCIS: New Orleans; Fox rolls out Lethal Weapon, LA to Vegas and The Mick; and NBC has Ellen's Game of Games, This Is Us and Chicago Med.
• Where's Doc? I get frequent emails asking about the return of the popular British series Doc Martin and the Australian series A Place to Call Home, which most folks watch on PBS. TV writer Rich Heldenfels of Tribune Media Service gets the same questions and has the most succinct explanation I've found. Here's the gist.
The U.S. rights to both series are owned not by public television, but by Acorn Media Enterprises, which has put the current seasons (No. 8 for Doc, No. 5 for Place) on its subscription streaming service, Acorn TV.
Therefore, it's up to Acorn to decide when to offer the shows to American Public Television, the distributor that offers programs to local PBS stations for broadcast.
No date has been set for the current seasons to be released, so Doc Martin and A Place to Call Home will only be available on Acorn TV for the foreseeable future.
Can't wait? Acorn TV will cost you $4.99 a month to subscribe. Other series include Murdoch Mysteries, Vera, Loch Ness, Anzac Girls, Jack Irish, The Code and Rake. More info at acorn.tv.
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