What to Watch in May

Dan Soles
The Chinese Exclusion Act; Little Women; National Memorial Day Concert. Photos: Royal BC Museum; MASTERPIECE on PBS, BBC and Playground; Capital Concerts
Photos: Royal BC Museum; MASTERPIECE on PBS, BBC and Playground; Capital Concerts

There’s a huge amount of worthwhile TV out there nowadays, so it can be hard to choose what to watch. But who better to recommend shows than the person who programs them? Dan Soles, Senior Vice President and Chief Television Officer at WTTW, constructs the WTTW schedule by searching through offerings from many different sources which include the national PBS network, the BBC, and independent filmmakers to put together a varied and engaging broadcast schedule. Each month, he’ll recommend a few shows that he thinks you should watch.

Mekong River with Sue Perkins

Thursdays at 8:00 pm, beginning May 3

The Mekong River with Sue Perkins

Southeast Asia is a long way from the British countryside, but former The Great British Baking Show host Sue Perkins is ready to explore Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and China by travelling along the Mekong River in this four episode series. From a massive floating market to a center of Buddhism, from a look at environmental destruction to economic development, Perkins shows fascinating insights and vibrant communities along her almost 3,000-mile journey. This is one of my favorite shows I’ve seen recently, I absolutely love it.

inCommon Chicago: It’s Up to Us

Thursday, May 10 at 9:00 pm

Providence-St. Mel

Mike Leonard is back, with another deeply human look at the people building communities and bringing hope to Chicago neighborhoods in It’s Up to Us. Leonard profiles Providence-St. Mel, the Garfield Park school founded by the strict but caring former civil rights activist Paul Adams. He also examines one of today’s greatest societal problems: access to education, especially high quality education, for people of color in impoverished communities, so this is an important – and moving – story.

Little Women

Sundays, May 13 and 20 at 7:00 pm


Chances are you’ve read this beloved classic, or watched one of the myriad TV or stage adaptations of it. This newest version on Masterpiece, adapted by Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas, features such stars as Angela Lansbury and Michael Gambon, as well as four young actresses in the roles of the March sisters. I don’t need to tell you not to miss it.

The Great American Read

Tuesday, May 22 at 8:00 pm


America’s 100 best-loved novels (yes, Little Women is on the list), all presented in a two-hour special hosted by Meredith Vieira kicking off a summer of reading and voting before The Great American Read returns in fall with more in-depth explorations of the books and the revelation of the number one novel. Margaret Atwood, Junot Díaz, George R. R. Martin, and more authors and celebrities discuss their favorite books and love of reading. Can’t wait? Check out our list of 12 iconic works of Chicago literature.

National Memorial Day Concert

Sunday, May 27 at 7:00 pm, rebroadcast at 8:30 pm

The National Memorial Day Concert. Photo: Capital ConcertsPhoto: Capital Concerts

It’s one of our most popular specials, and it’s hosted by two Chicagoans, Gary Sinise and Joe Mantegna. Broadcast from our nation’s capital, this musical tribute to men and women in service is stirring. If you miss the first broadcast, or just want to watch it again, it receives an encore play at 8:30 pm.

American Experience: The Chinese Exclusion Act

Tuesday, May 29 at 8:00 pm


This special, two-hour American Experience by Li-Shin Yu and Ric Burns (Ken’s brother) chronicles a staggeringly terrible part of American history: the outright banning of all Chinese immigrants from 1882 to 1943. The film explores these shameful 60 years of history as well as their repercussions, and what they reveal about immigration, civil rights, and American identity. You can meet the filmmakers at a free screening and discussion hosted by WTTW at the Cultural Center on Saturday, May 19 at 2:00 pm.

TV Highlights
Dan Soles