Inventor, politician, writer, businessman, scientist, diplomat. Those are the many images that come to mind when we remember Benjamin Franklin. But there is much more to his story. The two-hour world premiere documentary BEN FRANKLIN chronicles the life of the most accomplished, most accessible but also most paradoxical Founding Father, whose works and words may inspire us, whose essence remains elusive, and who is exceptionally relevant today. BEN FRANKLIN makes its world premiere Sunday, December 5 at 9 pm ET/PT on The History Channel.
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Benjamin Franklin's achievements are unparalleled. He was the driving force behind America’s first public lending library, first non-religious college, and first national newspaper. As a diplomat, he helped make American independence a reality. In matters of science, he was nothing less than the greatest thinker of his time. Yet just when we think we understand him, we discover there is much more about him than we ever imagined. This documentary doesn't portray Franklin as an unapproachable, granite icon, but rather as an earthy, brilliant and flawed man that historian H.W. Brands describes as "the one Founding Father easiest to imagine living in the 21st century."
"Benjamin Franklin is the Founding Father people can relate to," says Walter Isaacson, author, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. "He's the patron saint of the common person." Isaacson is among the biographers and historians who offer insight into Franklin in this special. Also lending their observations are H. W. Brands, author, The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin; Michael Zuckerman, Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania; Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, whose current work in progress is A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France and the Birth of America; Ellen Cohn, editor, The Franklin Papers, Yale University; and Derrick Pitts, Chief Astronomer, The Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, who demonstrates some of Franklin's experiments with electricity. The documentary also offers selections from Franklin's autobiography and other writings.
BEN FRANKIN recounts his greatness, but delves into the side of Franklin that doesn’t always show up in the history books. For someone who has been a national icon for well over 200 years, Franklin remains surprisingly enigmatic. His long public life and prolific writings present us with a maze of different personas. Franklin was "a master of masks," says Michael Zuckerman. "Franklin understood that American life was one great masquerade ball."
By his own admission, the man who tamed lightning, helped edit the Declaration of Independence and brokered the American alliance with France had more than his share of shortcomings and failures. In business, Franklin was a self-promoter and sometimes a ruthless competitor, yet he gave it up at age 42 to devote his time to science, never making a penny from some of his greatest achievements. He was a reluctant revolutionary who preferred compromise to confrontation, but has been called, by Walter Isaacson, the most indispensable person next to George Washington when it comes to winning the American Revolution. Though he strived for moral perfection, he freely consorted with “low women” and fathered an illegitimate son. He was equally comfortable speaking in front of British parliament as he was whispering into the ears of Parisian ladies, yet was cold and distant with his family.
Photographed in High Definition (HD) video and shot largely on location in Philadelphia, the production allows the viewer to “walk” in Franklin’s footsteps, visiting historic sites (such as Independence Hall, Christ Church, Elfreth’s Alley, Bartram Gardens and the City Tavern) that Franklin himself frequented during his life. Period re-enactments and archival images and artifacts complete the visual and story telling template.
From the day he arrived in Philadelphia at the age of 17 to his death in 1790, Ben Franklin was a man who not only shaped his times, but also laid the groundwork for the future. The "great American genius" remains one of the most beloved American historical figures, but a closer examination of his life may prove that the reason we continue to love him is because he seems so much like one of us.
BEN FRANKLIN is produced by Cosgrove/Meurer Productions, Inc. (in association with RBTV Productions) for The History Channel. Executive Producer is Raymond Bridgers. Executive Producer for The History Channel is Dolores Gavin.
Now reaching more than 87 million Nielsen subscribers, The History Channel®, "Where the Past Comes Alive®," brings history to life in a powerful manner and provides an inviting place where people experience history personally and connect their own lives to the great lives and events of the past. In 2004, The History Channel earned five News and Documentary Emmy® Awards and previously received the prestigious Governor's Award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for the network's "Save Our History®" campaign dedicated to historic preservation and history education. The History Channel web site is located at www.HistoryChannel.com.