Bob Hope is an American Master. From radio to the big screen and small and even to the frontlines of the nation’s major military conflicts, Hope gave America laughs and…well…hope throughout the course of his eight decade-long career. Now almost 15 years after the legendary entertainer died, PBS and Public Media Distribution have paid tribute to him in the form of a new episode of PBS’ hit bio series American Masters titled American Masters: This Is Bob Hope. Released January 9, 2018, this 2-hour documentary paints a vivid picture of what makes Hope a true American Master in part through its unbiased story of his life and career. That story forms a solid foundation for the program’s presentation, and will be discussed shortly. The program’s pacing directly connects to the story itself, making it just as important to discuss as the program’s story. It will be touched on later. The bonus material included with the program rounds out its most important elements. Each item is important in its own way to the whole of American Masters: This is Bob Hope. All things considered, they collectively make the program proof positive of why Bob Hope is an American Master and why this profile of the legendary entertainer is one of this year’s top new documentaries.
American Masters: This is Bob Hope, one of the latest entries in PBS’ hit biography series American Masters, is one of this year’s best new documentaries, hands down. It is a program that will appeal just as much to Hope aficionados as it will entertainment history buffs. This is proven in no small part through the profile presented of the legendary entertainer through the program’s story. The story presented here — largely through interviews with some of the biggest names in comedy (Woody Allen, Margaret Cho, Kermit the Frog, Dick Cavett, Conan O’Brien) is a fully unbiased profile of Hope that shows the good, the bad and even the ugly. Yes, there was some ugly in his life. It came in the form of his alleged issues with infidelity. Hope’s friends and family tackle the topic briefly, but do what they can to talk about it without completely sweeping it under the rug. Even though the discussion was not in-depth, it showed that those behind the lens wanted to make sure to show a full profile of the man who was Bob Hope. The good is the love that he had for his adopted children and his very real dedication to entertaining the men who served in America’s armed forces from World War II right through Vietnam as well as his pure dedication to entertaining audiences in general. Those are tidbits that any viewer will appreciate learning. That is because it makes Hope that much more beloved. Just as interesting to learn about is Hope’s friendship with fellow entertainer Bing Crosby. As comedian/actor Billy Crystal (Monsters Inc, Monsters U, Parental Control) notes as he reads Hope’s own words, the two had quite the chemistry on and off camera. Though, despite that friendship, Hope apparently got jealous when Crosby got an Academy Award. This is all very interesting, and only one part of the story that makes the whole of the story so interesting. The bad of Hope’s life and career adds just as much interest to the story as the good and even the ugly. The bad comes through the discussion on his connection to the Vietnam War. Audiences learn here that in what seemed like an attempt to stay relevent, Hope caused some controversy with his jokes in support of the Vietnam conflict and his political ties to the White House at the time. This upset both the military he entertained and those back in the United States with his comments. It’s just one more interesting piece of information that audiences learn in watching this in-depth look at Bob Hope’s life and career. The additional depth that this piece of information adds to the story shows even more why the story is so critical to the doc’s presentation. Of course for all of the interest that the story doc’s story generates, it is only one part of what makes this program an interesting watch. The program’s pacing, by connection is just as important to discuss.
The pacing of PBS’ new profile of Bob Hope is so important to discuss because of the sheer amount of material that is shared over the course of the program’s two hours. The program takes viewers from Hope’s childhood all the way up to the end of his career, when he was honored at the Kennedy Center Honors. As noted already, Hope’s career is followed chronologically, from his early days in radio to his growing fame on the big screen and then on to the small screen. Throughout each stage of his career, audiences learn lots of information about his professional and personal life. That means that there was a lot of ground to cover. Thankfully, for all of the ground that is covered here, those behind the doc didn’t let the story get bogged down in itself. That was due in part to the insights from the guests and also in part simply to balance of each segment. That attention to detail resulted in each segment starting and ending at just the right point, focusing on the most important items in each part of Hope’s career. That attention to detail couples with the movement generated through the guest interviews to keep the program moving smoothly from beginning to end. While audiences know that two hours have passed by the time the story ends, they will still feel more fulfilled than exhausted. Again, that is a tribute to the attention to detail. The end effect is a program that moves fluidly from one segment to the next and ensures in itself maintained engagement just as much as the story itself. Keeping in mind the connection and importance of the doc’s story and pacing, audiences see even more why American Masters: This Is Bob Hope is another master profile from PBS. As important as they are to the whole of the program, they are not the only important elements to discuss here. The bonus material included in the program’s home release rounds out its most important elements.
The bonus material included with AM: This Is Bob Hope is primarily interview material that was ended up on the cutting room floor. One of the most interesting interview segments is that with Conan O’Brien as he talks about working on an episode of The Simpsons that incorporated Bob Hope. O’Brien talks here about Hope making a surprise appearance to actually voice himself for the brief cameo and his own gleeful surprise at Hope’s surprising appearance for the recording. There is also a reading by another interviewee of a letter that Hope wrote to one of his young fans early his career that adds even more depth to the overall story. It is real proof of the love that was discussed during the program that Hope had for his legions of fans. Tom Selleck’s (yes, Tom Selleck) anecdote about appearing on television opposite Hope offers its own enjoyment, and is sure to leave audiences with a laugh and a smile. Considering this, it comes as no surprise that it is saved as the last of the bonus materials. The opening bonus interview with O’Brien about Hope setting the standard for making even monologue foibles adds just as much enjoyment as Selleck’s interview and the other bonus interviews. Between the interviews noted here and those not directly noted, the bonus interviews included with this program add just as much to the program’s whole as the story and its pacing. When this is all considered together, the end result is an overall presentation that is certain to appeal to any Bob Hope aficionado just as much as it will to any entertainment history buff. With that in mind, it is easily a candidate for any critic’s list of the year’s top new documentaries.
American Masters: This Is Bob Hope is a masterful profile of a true master entertainer. This two-hour bio on Bob Hope is a work that is certain to appeal to any Bob Hope aficionado and to any entertainment history buff. As has been noted here, that is due in part to the program’s in-depth story. It is an unbiased story that presents the good, bad and ugly of Hope’s life and career equally. The story’s pacing ensures audiences’ engagement just as much as the story itself while the bonus interview segments put the finishing touch to the program’s presentation. Each element is important in its own right, as audiences will see when they watch this program. All things considered, they make American Masters: This Is Bob Hope another masterful presentation from PBS. It is available now and can be ordered online direct via PBS’ online store. More information on this and other episodes of American Masters is available online now at:
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