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PBS Presents: "LOCKOUT," an 8-part film by Ken Burns

This Fall on PBS, Ken Burns' <em>Lockout</em> takes a long, detailed look at work stoppages in sports. Seriously, it's going to be really long. (The film, that is. We don't know about the lockout.)
This Fall on PBS, Ken Burns' Lockout takes a long, detailed look at work stoppages in sports. Seriously, it's going to be really long. (The film, that is. We don't know about the lockout.)


by Ken Burns

Growing up in Michigan, I attended Detroit Red Wings games with my father at the old Olympia. The once-great team was struggling mightily at that time but I saw them as a grand, sweeping metaphor for America and the awkward growing pains of a traditional society fighting its way towards an uncertain future. Probably. I think.

During the 1993-94 season, the Red Wings, finally flush with talent, finished first in the Western Conference and were poised to win their first Stanley Cup since 1955 when they were upset by the precocious San Jose Sharks in the first round of the playoffs. Somewhere, I hope Jamie Baker is undergoing the kind of torturous, pained existence that I can turn into a 9-hour documentary film someday.

I remember telling my father later that summer, "I can't wait for hockey season to start. I think the Wings can win the whole thing this year."

"What hockey season?" he asked.

During my work, I had not kept up with the NHL's off-season collective bargaining negotiations with the players association. As it happened, the league was going to lock the players out and the season would not start on time, if at all. Days stretched into weeks which stretched into months of no hockey. As my anxiety grew, I became unhealthily obsessed with the nature of the lockout in pro sports.

Turns out, the lockout has a long, wonderful, colorful history in the sports world that I had no knowledge of. And it occurred to me, "I should make a super long, talking head-filled movie about this." After years of stops and starts, that film is finally complete.

We began filming Lockout during the NHL's 2004-05 work stoppage. Fortunately for us, the NBA and NFL had lockouts as well in the following years, and the NHL is slipping perilously close to another at the moment. As a filmmaker, I couldn't have asked for more. As a fan, it sucks big ones.

My crew and I combed through archival material going back to the early 19th century. We interviewed scholars and historians. We exhumed the bodies of sports stars forgotten by time. We learned to speak the languages of the First Nations. We saw "pucks" made of cow dung that have been frozen for two hundred years. People died, although they were mostly production assistants so it didn't matter. All so that we could fully and completely understand every aspect of the sports lockout.

And yet, I still don't.

But at least we have a ton of cool stuff, set to slow piano music along with some long, gauzy camerawork and tasteful recreations. And George Will is in there for some reason. I have no idea why, I didn't even tell him I was making this one.

Through my other films such as Baseball, The Civil War and Jazz, I have explored in great detail how American life has been shaped by the convictions and creativity of its people. In Lockout, I wanted to explore the collision of sports and business that plays such a large role in our society and how it has come to color our enjoyment of what are supposed to be diversions from our dreary workaday lives. But all it did was piss me off because there were no games.

So, here. You got time. Watch it.

Ken Burns

New York City

August 2012

Full descriptions of Lockout's eight episodes follow:


Lockout, Ken Burns's epic 12-hour miniseries about sports' most popular roadblock, will premiere on PBS on September 15th, 2012. Three of the film's eight episodes - or "Proposals" - will be rebroadcast in May and June 2012 instead of the National Hockey League playoffs.

Proposal One, What We Want, looks at the earliest origins of the lockout dating back to the Mi'kmaq people of Nova Scotia in the beginning of the 19th century. Burns refutes the myth that the sports lockout was invented in the 20th century and traces its roots instead to the earliest days of ice hockey - there are records of a labor dispute between the Mi'kmaqs and a ruthless land baron who forbade the tribe from making their signature wooden sticks for local players unless an unequal financial partnership was established.

Proposal Two, How About This?, takes viewers from the "Mi'kmaq and Mercenary War of 1830" through 1875 and introduces some of the lockout's earliest colorful characters, including Governor "Greeny" Goldsworthy, pond and ice magnate Honus Ricketts and veteran shinny player Chris Chelios.

Proposal Three, That's Not Gonna Work For Us, examines the 19th century's end, which was dominated by a wave of immigration that helped fill local hockey teams with new, cheaper players eager to "become American" by playing sports in exchange for just beer. A key figure in the story is economic theorist Beatrice Webb, a.k.a "The First Lady of Lockouts," who originally coined the phrase "collective bargaining" in 1891.

Proposal Four, Business is Booming, concentrates on the many professional and amateur sports leagues operating at the turn of the 20th century, whose phenomenal spirit of sporting adventure extended past the fields and rinks and into the offices of team owners and commissioners. It also tells the story of the aborted South Eastern New Jersey Professional Baseball Federation (SENJPBF), which locked out all its teams before its inaugural game in a dispute over how many beaver pelts and almost-rotted tomatoes each player should receive per season.

Proposal Five, The Greatest Depression, examines the rise of national sports stars in the early part of the 20th century and the various methods used to prevent them from playing their games. Includes a hilarious and uproarious re-telling of how Babe Ruth was once locked out of his favorite brothel for an excruciating (for Ruth) five days.

Proposal Six, The Waiting, covers what Burns calls "the lockout's finest moment" - the debut of the NHL's revolutionary salary cap in 1932. Also examines the 1940s and the National Basketball League's celebrated Sukkah Lockout which inadvertently led to the creation of the NBA by the end of the decade.

Proposal Seven, Point of No Return, takes viewers from the 1950s up through the present, as leagues continue to use the lockout as a tool to reset their principles. After all these years, the lockout is to team owners as helmets, gloves, balls and pucks are to players. The NBA, NFL and NHL have all had lockouts, sometimes during concurrent seasons, a signal that the games may have changed, but money and power are forever.

Proposal Eight, Overtime, covers the future of the lockout and where it goes from here. Burns looks toward to the NHL's next lockout, which the league will focus on as soon as it finishes its current one.


This is a parody. A real Ken Burns documentary on the Lockout would be much, much longer than 12 hours. Watch this film instead.