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New York: A Documentary Film 

Ric Burns (brother of the famed documentarian Ken Burns) presents an exhaustive history of New York City from the settling of the area by the Dutch to the attack by terrorists nearly 400 ... See full summary »




2003   2001   1999  
Won 1 Primetime Emmy. Another 2 wins & 6 nominations. See more awards »


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Series cast summary:
David Ogden Stiers ...  Narrator 8 episodes, 1999-2003
John Steele Gordon John Steele Gordon ...  Himself - Commentator 7 episodes, 1999-2001
Kenneth Jackson Kenneth Jackson ...  Himself - Commentator 7 episodes, 1999-2001
Robert A.M. Stern Robert A.M. Stern ...  Himself - Commentator 7 episodes, 1999-2001
Mike Wallace ...  Himself - Commentator 7 episodes, 1999-2001
Philip Bosco 6 episodes, 1999-2001
Brendan Gill Brendan Gill ...  Himself - Commentator 6 episodes, 1999-2001
Calvin O. Butts III Calvin O. Butts III ...  Himself - Commentator 5 episodes, 1999-2001
Robert A. Caro ...  Himself - Commentator 5 episodes, 1999-2001
Peter Hamill Peter Hamill ...  Himself - Commentator 5 episodes, 1999-2001
Alfred Kazin Alfred Kazin ...  Himself - Commentator 5 episodes, 1999-2001
David McCullough ...  Himself - Commentator 5 episodes, 1999-2001
George Plimpton 5 episodes, 1999-2001
Luc Sante Luc Sante ...  Himself - Commentator 5 episodes, 1999-2001
Eli Wallach 5 episodes, 1999-2001
Craig Steven Wilder Craig Steven Wilder ...  Himself - Commentator 5 episodes, 1999-2001
Keith David 4 episodes, 1999-2001
Paul Giamatti 4 episodes, 1999-2001
Rudy Giuliani ...  Himself - Commentator 4 episodes, 1999-2001
Fran Lebowitz ...  Herself - Commentator 4 episodes, 1999-2001
Callie Thorne 4 episodes, 1999-2001
Daniel Czitrom Daniel Czitrom ...  Himself - Commentator 4 episodes, 1999
Robert Sean Leonard 4 episodes, 1999
Peter Quinn ...  Himself - Commentator 4 episodes, 1999
Marshall Berman Marshall Berman ...  Herself - Commentator 3 episodes, 1999-2001
Allen Ginsberg ...  Himself - Commentator 3 episodes, 1999-2001
Spalding Gray ...  Himself - Comentator 3 episodes, 1999-2001
Josh Hamilton Josh Hamilton 3 episodes, 1999-2001
David Levering Lewis David Levering Lewis ...  Himself - Commentator 3 episodes, 1999-2001
Carol Willis Carol Willis ...  Herself - Commentator 3 episodes, 1999-2001
Caleb Carr Caleb Carr ...  Himself - Commentator 3 episodes, 1999
James Hazeldine 3 episodes, 1999
Phillip Lopate Phillip Lopate ...  Himself - Commentator 3 episodes, 1999
Daniel Patrick Moynihan ...  Himself - Commentator 3 episodes, 1999
Frances Sternhagen 3 episodes, 1999
John Kuo Wei Tchen John Kuo Wei Tchen ...  Himself - Commentator 3 episodes, 1999
Joshua Freeman Joshua Freeman ...  Himself - Commentator 2 episodes, 1999-2001
Ruth J. Abram Ruth J. Abram ...  Herself - Commentator 2 episodes, 1999
Thomas Bender Thomas Bender ...  Himself - Commentator 2 episodes, 1999
Carol Berkin Carol Berkin ...  Herself - Commentator 2 episodes, 1999
Janeane Garofalo 2 episodes, 1999
Margo Jefferson Margo Jefferson ...  Herself - Commentator 2 episodes, 1999
Frederic Kimball Frederic Kimball 2 episodes, 1999
David Margulies David Margulies 2 episodes, 1999
Gretchen Sullivan Sorin Gretchen Sullivan Sorin ...  Herself - Commentator / ... 2 episodes, 1999
Harris Yulin 2 episodes, 1999
Bella Abzug Bella Abzug ...  Herself - Commentator 2 episodes, 2001
Frances Golden Frances Golden ...  Herself - Commentator 2 episodes, 2001
Cheryl Greenberg Cheryl Greenberg ...  Herself - Commentator 2 episodes, 2001
Ada Louise Huxtable Ada Louise Huxtable ...  Herself - Commentator 2 episodes, 2001
Ed Koch ...  Himself - Commentator 2 episodes, 2001
Anna Quindlen ...  Herself - Commentator 2 episodes, 2001
Susan Sarandon 2 episodes, 2001
Ray Suarez Ray Suarez ...  Himself - Commentator 2 episodes, 2001
Donald Trump Jr. ...  Himself - Commentator 2 episodes, 2001


Ric Burns (brother of the famed documentarian Ken Burns) presents an exhaustive history of New York City from the settling of the area by the Dutch to the attack by terrorists nearly 400 years later. Told in a sentimental tone, Burns weaves a lyrical tale of the great metropolis that encompasses not only the city's streets, but also that of the history of America. Though around fourteen hours in length, this epic documentary presents a thoughtful, entertaining look at our relatively young country. Written by Chris Bogner

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis



Official Sites:

PBS [United States]





Release Date:

September 1999 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

American Experience: New York - A Documentary Film See more »

Filming Locations:

New York City, New York, USA

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs



See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Originally, the film was to be a seven-episode documentary. After the World Trade Center was destroyed in the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, an eighth episode - "The Center of the World" about the rise and fall of the Twin Towers - was made. It aired September 8, 2003. See more »


Narrator: On September 2nd, 1609, an English explorer hired by the Dutch to find a faster route to the riches of the Orient steered his 80 ton ship off the surging currents of the North Atlantic and into an immense sheltered bay. Sailing into the mouth of the mile-wide river that flowed into it from the north, he pushed 100 miles upstream, hoping it led to China. It didn't.
See more »


References King Kong (1933) See more »

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User Reviews

Easily THE definitive documentary on NY
23 October 2002 | by CabbyG3See all my reviews

The Ric Burns (Civil War, Jazz) documentary is thorough enough to teach even New Yorkers about native home. At 14 hours, perhaps that's not a hard thing to do, but it is worth every minute. At its heart, it's the story of NY from 1609 to 2000. But at its core, what you will take away from it is that New York's is the tale of America. "New York, more than any other city in the United States, tells the story of America to itself."-- and it does.

Most enlightening to potential viewers will be the last chapter "The city and the world" that brings us from the end of WWII into the present. The meat here is the whole "urban renewal" failure of the 80's and 90's, as well as the once and future problem of suburban expansion. And, as always, they show how New York was THE leader of the pack in all of these urban questions. In watching the documentary, you cannot help but realize that what happens in NY, inevitably happens in the rest of the USA. Ric Burns' documentary is so much more, part 3 is the true story of New York that Scorsese hopes to capture in "Gangs of New York" this December (not even he has a shot at this). This documentary is delightful in its simplicity and subtle in its sentimentality (no bashing over the head, "NY rules", and its all la-tee-da). Lovers and haters of NY are all interviewed and allowed to give their slant. Although the villification of Robert Moses and complete hatred of him is made manifest-- because it was true then and is true now. The films does not go into detail during wars, which I might have liked to see more of, but the fact is that NY (as you will see) has not played a large role in war, except as a stage for the rest of the US to play on (a-la VJ-day). Urbanists, the NY-curious, educators, the educated-- see this documentary.

The story of Walt Whitman, the story of Abe Lincoln, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Al Smith, la Guardia, FDR, George Washington, Stuyvesant, and more were MADE in New York City. New York has been referred to as a foreign city with over 50% of its people born outside of the country, but it turns out to be the most American of any city-- the real mixing pot, where everyone is forced to get along and to find a way to work together (the United Nations?). This film won 2001 Emmys for best editing and best non-fiction programming to give you an idea of its cinematic quality.

It is NOT about September 11th, but you connect 'what happens to NY, happens to the rest 10 years later' to that date, it begs the question. There are other documentaries about that NY event. NY was the first to experience a massive suicide bombing (episode 3) and it will likely be the first city again. Since the Civil War, you will see, it has been the First City of the world, the Capitol of the world. The best damn city, with one of the most remarkable histories of any place you could name-- laid out with great storytelling by Ric Burns' PBS documentary. 9.5/10

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