GOT 16 HOURS? PBS launches another epic Ken Burns documentary, a masterfully detailed history of “Country Music” (8 p.m. Sunday, TV-PG, check local listings). Running Sunday through Wednesday for two successive weeks, it features more than 100 interviews, including 40 members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Over the course of the film’s years-long production, 17 of these subjects have since gone on to the Grand Ole Opry in the sky.
Not unlike Burns’ “Jazz” series, “Country” covers a subject so vast as to defy easy categorization. At first it seems that country music is an American hybrid of English, Irish and Scottish ballads. But then how do you explain its African-American influences, its hints of Cajun, Mexican and Spanish music? Series writer Dayton Duncan and many of those interviewed seem to agree that country has long stood as the music of an underappreciated working class, incorporating the woes, stories and aspirations of those habitually looked down upon by their “betters.”
Singer songwriter Kris Kristofferson calls it the “soul music” of poor whites. But then the first episode, entitled “The Rub,” explains how many of country music’s influencers and practitioners were black.
Like most Burns productions, “Country” is at its best when presenting years of research and explaining the nuts and bolts of the music industry in the early 20th century, as both recording companies and fledgling radio stations scoured the countryside for new sounds appealing to previously untapped markets.
Few businesspeople expected there to be an audience for the fiddle and banjo music of the Appalachians and rural South. They were quicker to exploit the market for “ethnic” tunes of the city immigrants and the “race” recordings of black artists before they turned to country music. And even then, they denigrated the audience as “hillbillies.”
As in every Burns’ effort since “The Civil War,” contemporary letters and business documents are recited to revealing effect. The wealth of interviews presents both a strength and a weakness.
We get to hear from an art form’s most passionate artists. At the same time, they seem to be aware they are appearing in a Ken Burns documentary. With few exceptions (like the always funny and self-deprecating Dolly Parton) subjects swing for the rhetorical and metaphorical fences. Too many interviews seem a tad grandiose and humorless.
Like many such films, “Country Music” has been compiled into a big illustrated book, a “coffee-table” tome, if you will. As such, its subject has become something that country music artists go out of their way to avoid: respectable.
• A survivor (Steve Carell) of a violent assault patches his life and identity back together by creating a fictitious miniature town at the center of a fantasy World War II battle in the 2018 drama “Welcome to Marwen” (8 p.m. Saturday, HBO).
A tale this strange could only be based on real life, one captured in the 2010 documentary “Marwencol,” originally broadcast on PBS’s “Independent Lens.”
In my review of that film, I wrote that “’Marwencol’ offers a peculiar meditation on memory and loss and the redemptive, or at least revelatory, power of the imagination.”
“Marwencol” can be streamed on the Criterion, Kanopy and Fandor services.
• Now streaming on Netflix, the 2018 thriller “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” stars Taissa Farmiga (“American Horror Story”) and Alexandra Daddario as sisters caring for their delicate uncle (Crispin Glover) in a gloomy house with a history of tragedy. Adapted from a much-loved novel by Shirley Jackson (“The Haunting of Hill House” and “The Lottery”).
• TCM salutes the late Peter Fonda with his Oscar-nominated 1997 drama “Ulee’s Gold” (8 p.m. Sunday, TV-MA) and the 1969 touchstone film “Easy Rider” (10 p.m. Sunday, TV-MA).
• College football action includes Florida at Kentucky (7 p.m., ESPN), Clemson at Syracuse (7:30 p.m., ABC) and Oklahoma at UCLA (8 p.m., Fox).
• “Planet Earth: Nature’s Great Events” (9 p.m., BBC America, TV-G) examines an annual sardine run off the coast of South Africa.
• Separated from her owner, a dog makes a 400-mile trek in the 2019 tale “A Dog’s Way Home” (8 p.m., Starz).
• Having secured a coveted spot on the pom-pom squad, a young woman falls for an older man in the 2019 shocker “The Cheerleader Escort” (8 p.m., Lifetime, TV-14).
• After their busy schedules tear them apart, a couple who share an Irish vacation fling return to the Emerald Isle in the 2019 romance “Forever in My Heart” (9 p.m., Hallmark, TV-G).
• Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (7 p.m., CBS): Fentanyl from China; a rare dementia that strikes the young; a profile of artist Mark Bradford.
• The Falcons and Eagles meet in NFL action (8 p.m., NBC).
• David Letterman’s musical partner in crime interviews icons on his series “Paul Shaffer Plus One” (8 p.m., AXS). First up: Joe Walsh.
• Tasha stirs the pot on “Power” (8 p.m., Starz, TV-MA).
• Al and Morgan take risks on “Fear the Walking Dead” (9 p.m., AMC, TV-MA).
• Sibling rivalries on “Succession” (9 p.m., HBO, TV-MA).
• Sean Hayes hosts the “The Comedy Central Roast” of Alec Baldwin (10 p.m., Comedy Central, TV-MA).
• A flashback to Aimee-Leigh’s pregnancy reveals conflicting motivations on “The Righteous Gemstones” (10 p.m., HBO, TV-MA).
• The Garbeaus host a motivational rally on “On Becoming a God in Central Florida” (10 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).
Japanese director Akira Kurosawa adapts Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” as a samurai epic in the 1957 drama “Throne of Blood” (9:45 p.m. Saturday, TCM, TV-14).
Hot tub homicides on “NCIS” (8 p.m., CBS, r, TV-PG) ... Semifinalists compete on “America’s Got Talent” (8 p.m., NBC, r, TV-PG) ... “48 Hours” (9 p.m., CBS) ... “Dateline” (10 p.m., NBC, r).
“Football Night in America” (7 p.m., NBC, TV-14) recaps the day’s action ... “Big Brother” (8 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) ... A sneak peek at the next “Masked Singer” (8 p.m., Fox, TV-PG) ... “Celebrity Family Feud” (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).
ISIS links on “NCIS: Los Angeles” (9 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) ... A college fund crisis on “The Simpsons” (9 p.m., Fox, r, TV-PG) ... “The $100,000 Pyramid” (9 p.m., ABC, TV-14) ... Meg becomes influential on “Family Guy” (9:30 p.m., Fox, r, TV-14) ... A dangerous mission on “NCIS: New Orleans” (10 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) ... “To Tell the Truth” (10 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).