The Great American Read, an ambitious eight-episode documentary series that PBS has just announced, will explore the place of reading in American culture. The show, which is set to start airing in the summer of 2018, will kickoff with a two-hour program that will reveal a list of America’s 100 best-loved books.
The inaugural episode of the series, set for May 2018, will feature the list of 100 best-loved books, chosen by the public and by a panel of literary experts. The final program in the fall will unveil a Top Ten list of America's best-loved books, culminating in the first-ever nation-wide vote to reveal America's single best-loved book of all.
Funded by the Public Broadcasting System and produced by the TV production house, Nutopia, The Great American Read will marshal the entire PBS network in a multiplatform campaign. The TV series will be supported by social media campaigns and community reading groups, in addition to testimonials and appearances by figures from the worlds of entertainment, sports, news and literature.
Voting by the public on the list of best-loved books will take place throughout the summer of 2018. The show will air thematic episodes ranging from “Being American,” and “Heroes,” to “Growing Up.” It will also feature interviews with celebrities and ordinary Americans about their passion for books and the role of reading in their lives.
Nutopia CEO Jane Root said she brought the idea for the Great American Read to PBS chief programming executive Beth Hoppe, after working on a similar and successful program for the BBC in the U.K. “It ended up really increasing book sales for the summer it ran," Root said, who credited Hoppe with keeping the project alive at PBS.
The initial list of 100 Best Loved Books, according to Bob Kirsh, executive producer of The Great American Read, were chosen through a demographically representative survey of ordinary Americans conducted via YouGov, a polling organization. Based on the question “What is your best-loved novel?,” the YouGov survey produced a list of 1,200 titles.
Working with the literary agency Aevitas Creative Management and with PBS, Nutopia has recruited a volunteer panel of “respected industry professionals including heads of not-for-profit literary organizations, educators, a librarian and members of the literary press," Kirsh said. The literary panel, Kirsh continued, will review the final list of 100 books to ensure it is representative of the full range of American literature. The panel of literary experts will be revealed at the time of the broadcast.
“It is important to reiterate that every title on our top 100 list was indeed initially chosen by the American public,” Kirsh said. "That’s what makes this national campaign exciting—there will truly be something for everyone.”