The West (documentary)

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The West
DVD cover for The West
Also known as 'Ken Burns Presents: The West'
Genre Documentary film
Written by Dayton Duncan
Geoffrey Ward
Directed by Stephen Ives
Voices of Adam Arkin
Matthew Broderick
Keith Carradine
John Lithgow
Gary Sinise
Jimmy Smits
Narrated by Peter Coyote
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 1
No. of episodes 8
Executive producer(s) Ken Burns
Producer(s) Stephen Ives
Jody Abramson
Michael Kantor
Running time 12 hours (8 episodes)
Production company(s) Insignia Films
Florentine Films
Original network PBS
Original release September 15 – September 22, 1996
External links

The West— sometimes marketed as Ken Burns Presents: The West — is a documentary film about the American Old West. It was directed by Stephen Ives and the executive producer was Ken Burns. The film originally aired on PBS in September 1996.


Stephen Ives and Ken Burns had worked together on several films, including The Civil War (1990) and Baseball (1994).[1] In 1988, Ives created his own production company, Insignia Films, and began working on The West as director, with Burns signed on to the project as executive producer.[1] In order to create The West, the film crew traveled over 100,000 miles (160,000 km) via airplane, conducted 72 interviews, visited 74 archives and collections, and filmed more than 250 hours of footage.[2] Notable interviewees included the historians Stephen Ambrose, J. S. Holliday, and Richard White; the novelists Maxine Hong Kingston and N. Scott Momaday; the environmentalists and writers Terry Tempest Williams and Marc Reisner; and the politicians Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Ann Richards, Stewart Udall, and Ralph Yarborough.[3]

Many notable actors lent their voices to The West, including Adam Arkin, Ossie Davis, Keith Carradine, John Lithgow, Mary Stuart Masterson, Blythe Danner, the famous playwright Arthur Miller, and Jimmy Smits. The film's narrator, Peter Coyote, later also narrated Burns' documentary film, The National Parks (2009).

The film's production was funded by General Motors.[4]

TV release

The West premiered on September 15, 1996, on PBS. The film was split into episodes, with one episode being aired each night for eight consecutive nights. Episodes were cut to about 90 minutes each in length, for a total length of over 12 hours for the entire film.[5]


No. Episode Original air date
1 "The People" (to 1806) September 15, 1996
  1. The West
  2. Episode 1 – The People (to 1806)
  3. The Vision
  4. The Vast West – The Spaniards
  5. Thunder Rolling from the Mountains
  6. The Horse – Dog Soldiers
  7. Tribal War
  8. California
  9. The Corps of Discovery
  10. The Outsiders
2 "Empire Upon the Trails" (1806–1848) September 16, 1996
  1. Americans want America
  2. Episode 2 – Empire Upon the Trails (1806–1848)
  3. The Heart of Everything
  4. Tejas – Texas
  5. The Alamo
  6. In the Midst of Savage Darkness
  7. The Barren Rock
  8. The Mormons
  9. Westward I go Free
  10. What a Country this Might be
  11. So we Die
  12. The American Flag
3 "Speck of the Future" (1848–1856) September 17, 1996
  1. Discovery
  2. The Gold Rush
  3. Episode 3 – Speck of the Future (1848–1856)
  4. My Share of the Rocks
  5. The Real Danger – Cholera
  6. Kit Carson
  7. Stay at Home
  8. The Diggings
  9. Wine, Women and Song
  10. The Right of Conquest
  11. Emporium of the Pacific
  12. The Red Indian Problem
  13. Days of '49
4 "Death Runs Riot" (1856–1868) September 18, 1996
  1. War on the Horizon
  2. Episode 4 – Death Runs Riot (1856–1868)
  3. Mountain Meadows
  4. The Mexicans
  5. This Guilty Land – Civil War
  6. Anarchy
  7. Preachers and Jackass Rabbits
  8. Who is the Savage?
  9. The Everywhere Spirit
  10. General George Custer
5 "The Grandest Enterprise Under God" (1868–1874) September 19, 1996
  1. The Railroad
  2. Episode 5 – The Grandest Enterprise Under God (1868–1874)
  3. The Buffalo
  4. The Artillery of Heaven
  5. The Spotted Cows
  6. One People
  7. Frank H. Mayer
  8. Good Company
  9. Cowboys
  10. A Wound in the Heart
6 "Fight No More Forever" (1874–1877) September 20, 1996
  1. Red Indians Fight Back
  2. Episode 6 – Fight No More Forever (1874–1877)
  3. General George Custer
  4. Sitting Bull
  5. Hard Times
  6. A Good Day to Die – Custer's Last Stand
  7. Disbelief and Revenge
  8. Center my Heart – Mormon Sacrifice
  9. Good Words – Chief Joseph
  10. Surrender
7 "The Geography of Hope" (1877–1887) September 21, 1996
  1. Conquest of The West?
  2. Episode 7 – The Geography of Hope (1877–1887)
  3. The Hunger for Land
  4. A Hard Time I Have
  5. The Chinese Problem
  6. The Romance of my Life
  7. Los Angeles
  8. The Brothel of the Nation
  9. Friends of the Indian
  10. Hell Without the Heat
  11. Buffalo Bill Cody
8 "One Sky Above Us" (1887–1914) September 22, 1996
  • Part 1
  1. A Part on the Back
  2. Episode 8 – One Sky Above Us (1887–1914)
  3. The Outcome of our Earnest Endeavours
  4. Ghost Dance
  5. P.S. I Like You Very Much
  • Part 2
  1. Without Logic
  2. Go North Young Man
  3. This isn't History
  4. Buffalo Bird Woman
  5. Will Never Leave You
  6. The Gift

When The West was released on VHS, the finale episode, "One Sky Above Us," was divided into two one-hour episodes, titled "Ghost Dance" and "One Sky Above Us." This VHS was September 24, 1996.


The West was well received by both popular audiences and historians. Over 38 million viewers watched the film during its original airing,[1] and it earned an average national Nielsen rating of 5.0.[6] In 1997, the Organization of American Historians awarded The West its Erik Barnouw Award.[7]

Film and television critics also responded positively to The West. Caryn James of The New York Times praised the film for its "enthralling detail" and authenticity, calling it "fiercely and brilliantly rooted in fact."[8] Richard Zoglin of TIME judged the film "a sweeping, thoughtful, often moving look at America's conquest of the West",[9] and Howard Rosenberg of the Los Angeles Times wrote that, "director Stephen Ives succeeds magnificently, delivering a lush work at once fully documented and fully entertaining... no one could ask for better television."[10]

DVD release

PBS released a five-disc DVD set of The West on September 30, 2003.[11]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Stephen Ives". Insignia Films. Retrieved 2009-08-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "New Perspectives on THE WEST". The West. WETA-TV. 2001. Retrieved 2009-08-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Commentators and Consultants". The West. WETA-TV. 2001. Retrieved 2009-08-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "A Message From the Sponsor". PBS. 2001.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Episodes". The West. WETA-TV. 2001. Retrieved 2009-08-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  7. "OAH Erik Barnouw Award Winners". Organization of American Historians. Retrieved 2009-08-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. James, Caryn (1996-09-15). "How The West Was Lost (As a Staple Of TV)". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-08-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Zoglin, Richard (1996-09-16). "White men behaving badly". TIME. 148 (13). p. 76.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Rosenberg, Howard (1996-09-13). "'The West' Is Stunning History of a Magnificent, Bloody Land". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-08-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Ken Burns' America: The West". VideoETA. Retrieved 2009-08-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

External links