Video: "Prohibition," Ken Burns' Must-See TV, Tonight!

By Walter Armstrong 10/03/11

A terrific documentary airs tonight about one of the strangest episodes in American history, when we voted away a cherished freedom.

An abstinence activist of the old school. Photo via 

Anyone with an interest in addiction would be well-advised to skip the reality TV shows tonight and tomorrow night in favor of a three-part PBS documentary series by Ken Burns called Prohibition. Using rare archival footage from the era of the "noble experiment"—which lasted from 1920 to 1933—along with smart and witty talking heads like writer Pete Hamill, who has three decades of sobriety. Critics agree with us that Burns has come up with a remarkably entertaining and informative take on one of the most bizarre periods of American history. Burns (The Civil War and Baseball) makes the most of Prohibition's large cast of colorful characters, like abstinence evangelist Carrie Nation and big-time bootlegger Roy Olmstead, even if his re-creations are, in his typical style, heavy on the schmaltz. Prohibition is well worth your time for its sharp social analysis of the many interests that combined to persuade the American people to go to the polls and vote away one of their most valued pleasures. Its approach is rich with humor, but the message is serious, and draws striking parallels with our current national politics. Tune in tonight and Tuesday at 8 pm EST on PBS.

Watch the full episode. See more Ken Burns.

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Walter Armstrong is the Medical Editor at  Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness and the former deputy editor of The Fix. You can find him on Linkedin.