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American Experience



History comes alive in excellent docuseries.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The series' goal is to provide a positive educational experience about various aspects of American history. It doesn't aim to teach values, but rather to simply document the values of others. It also brings attention to people who are normally not given recognition for their pioneering efforts, including women and racial/ethnic minorities.


While the subject matter may deal with violent events, such as wars, no real/active violence is shown.


Some episodes may discuss issues of a sexual nature. These discussions are in context and aren't salacious in nature.


Occasional mild language: "damn," "bitch," etc. This language is often used when quoting someone.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Drugs, alcohol, and tobacco products are sometimes visible (as part of the documentation of events) in some episodes. Addiction and drug/alcohol related deaths are sometimes discussed.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this PBS documentary series is committed to educating the public about events in American history. To that end, episodes are commonly used as supplemental teaching tools in schools and other educational settings. Parents should also know that some installments deal with mature subject matter and include strong language and graphic descriptions of events and behavior, making the show better suited to older tweens and teens than young children.

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What's the story?

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE -- a historical documentary series committed to telling stories about people and events that have changed the nation -- has the distinction of being television's longest-running and most-watched history program. The series examines a variety of subjects and disciplines, from technological developments and scientific breakthroughs to great American politicians and artists and their achievements. Each installment considers various perspectives on events that have had national implications, including in-vitro fertilization, yellow fever, Civil Rights, the Gold Rush, the private and public challenges of past leaders, and the progress of various forms of art and popular culture. While the topics of the individual documentaries vary, they share many thematic similarities. Each installment looks at the political, social, economic, and, often, ethical implications of the groundbreaking achievements of Americans who embraced unconventional ways of thinking.

Is it any good?


The series doesn't shy away from the flip side of these pioneering successes, making sure to cover the real costs associated with challenging preconceived notions of "how things should be." Many of the profiled innovators faced often-overwhelming difficulties as their work went from being socially resisted and politically opposed to becoming part of the tapestry of American daily life. A winner of every major broadcast award, American Experience continues the tradition of public broadcasting by working to increase public understanding of American history. To help fulfill that goal, the show often profiles innovators --including women and racial and ethnic minorities -- whose work paved the way for others who ended up getting sole credit for landmark contributions. But the series' most powerful message may be that a person's greatest contribution to America isn't actually changing it, but rather bravely taking the initiative to attempt to do so.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about which historical figures they admire and why. What makes them admirable? What challenges did they face as pioneers in their field? Families can also talk about important innovators who might be "left out" of history. Who gets credit for inventing new technology and creating other significant historical events? Why? How can we find out more about them? What did you learn from the show that you didn't know before? Parents and kids interested in learning more about the topics covered by the show can plan a trip to the library or do some Internet research.

TV details

Premiere date:October 4, 1988
Cast:David McCullough, David Ogden Stiers
Character strengths:Empathy
TV rating:TV-PG
Available on:DVD, Streaming

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