New York: A Documentary Film, filmmakers Ric Burns and Lisa Ades had to fit the great city into five or six two-hour programs. They faced many challenges. In the demanding visual medium of television, how could they carry the city's history from its first Dutch settlement to the mid-19th century, a period for which there are precious few authentic original images or physical remnants?
What could they do with the music, the art, the religious tracts, the broadsides, the newspapers, and the pamphlets produced in the city? Should they develop a consistent, continuous narrative, and if so, from what chronological, political, and cultural viewpoint? How could they engage and hold an audience large enough to justify 10 hours of prime television time and substantial investments by Chase Manhattan, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Ford Foundation, and other funders?
In general, the filmmakers sought to meet these challenges by enlisting the responses of celebrated writers and journalists to some unchanging ideas of New York City, and to a sort of "top ten" list of its most famous people, tourist sites, places, and events.
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