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For immediate release
March 9, 2001

PBS Home Video and American Experience Release Documentary Abraham and Mary Lincoln : A House Divided on DVD with Accessibility Features

ALEXANDRIA, VA - PBS Home Video and American Experience announce the DVD release of Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided -- a six-hour documentary that aired on PBS's American Experience in February. The DVD was co-produced by American Experience and WGBH Interactive with funding provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The enhanced three-disc release, which will be available for purchase in late March, offers both video description for blind and visually impaired viewers, as well as captioning for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers. It is the first-ever DVD to include an audio navigation feature, which enables viewers to access all the disc's features through audible menus.

According to Tom Wlodkowski, a project manager for the CPB/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM), "We want this DVD to serve as a model to the industry for producing completely accessible DVDs." The provision of the audio navigation feature -- or "talking menu" -- ensures that blind and visually impaired viewers can access any of the multiple menu options on the DVD without the assistance of a sighted person. In addition to the complete documentary with description, audible menus, captioning and Surround Sound, this deluxe three-disc set includes exclusive interviews with producer/director/co-writer David Grubin and cinematographer James Callanan; original narratives drawn from letters and diaries of Civil War soldiers 19th-century African Americans and women; and other special features and content.

NEH funding is making it possible for American Experience to donate more than 1,500 copies of the Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided DVD to educators nationwide for use in classrooms. Jolinda Simes, Ed.D., district mentor teacher for Special Education in the Minneapolis Public Schools and teacher of deaf and hard-of-hearing students writes: "What a fantastic service you are providing for teachers and students in special education. I am looking forward to being able to share these DVDs with teachers and students I work with...I know you have provided auditory input for blind and visually impaired people, [and] I think it might also benefit people who have severe reading disabilities...Thanks so much for putting this series together and making the DVD available in schools." Those teachers who wish to receive a complimentary copy of the DVD will be asked to register at dvd and to fill out a questionnaire once they've viewed the disc. The DVD may be purchased by calling 1-800-PLAY-PBS (1-800-752-9727), logging on to or visiting selected Borders, Barnes & Noble and Store of Knowledge bookstore locations.

In the tradition of its Peabody Award-winning Presidents series, Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided is American Experience's first biography of a nineteenth-century president and its first dual biography. In this six-hour film, acclaimed director and producer David Grubin, and his co-writer Geoffrey C. Ward, paint a vivid picture of the complicated marriage between Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd -- people from drastically different backgrounds -- who loved each other passionately, quarreled intensely and shared many personal tragedies. Using historic dramatizations and reenactments, interviews with historians and experts, and historic documents and illustrations, the film weaves together the lives of the two Lincolns. It also shows how their troubled lives paralleled that of a nation at war and describes the impact of Lincoln's brutal assassination on the country and the sanity of his wife.

Originally broadcast on PBS stations nationwide on February 19-21, 2001, coinciding with the observance of Presidents Day, the three-part debut of Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided was very popular among television viewers - especially considering that it aired during the competitive broadcast environment of "sweeps" month. The first night earned an average rating of 4.0, the second night a 3.9 and the final evening a 3.6- for a combined average major market rating of 3.9, which is 77% higher than the PBS prime-time average rating of 2.0. "Major markets" refer to the 49 television markets that represent two-thirds of all US TV households.

Television critics throughout the country praised the documentary as well. The New York Times wrote: "Mr. Grubin and Geoffrey C. Ward have successfully merged the broad sweep of history with the prickly nuances of individual relations...the series grows richer with every hour." The Los Angeles Times had this to say: "American Experience resumes being TV's preeminent US history teacher when rolling out Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided...[a] smart, moving, beautifully mounted three-parter...David Grubin's documentary stands head and stovepipe hat above the crowd." And the Chicago Tribune said: "Made under the glorious banner of American Experience, this ambitious and compelling six-hour joint biography ought to be required example of a near-perfect realization."

Since its debut on PBS in 1988, American Experience has brought stories of the people and events that shaped this country into nearly eight million homes each week. As television's longest-running, most-watched history series, it brings to life the incredible characters and epic stories that helped form this nation. Now in its thirteenth season, the series has produced over 125 documentaries and garnered every major broadcast award. PBS's American Experience is a production of WGBH, Boston.

The Media Access Group at WGBH, with offices in Boston, New York and Los Angeles, is a non-profit service of the WGBH Educational Foundation, home of Boston's PBS station. The service group includes Descriptive Video Service®, which has made television, film and video more accessible to blind and visually impaired audiences since 1990, as well as The Caption Center, the world's first captioning agency, founded in 1972. The third counterpart of the Media Access Group, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media, is a research and development entity that works to make existing and emerging technologies more accessible to these under-served audiences. Members of the Group's collective staff represent the leading resources and experts in their fields. For more information, visit

Press contact:
Mary Watkins
Media Access Group at WGBH
(617) 300-3700
(617) 300-2489 TTY

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