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A 2020 Round-Up with WTTW

Tim Russell
A protest at San Francisco State University in 1968

Tim Russell is the Vice President of Community Engagement and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at WTTW and WFMT.

It feels like it was just yesterday that we were sitting down to reflect on 2019, and now here we are again, on the crux of a new year. 2020 has been a truly unforgettable year: a global pandemic that took away so many things we love; a racial awakening that highlighted the discrimination faced by the Black community; and a heated presidential election that has greatly divided us. However, we have also witnessed how everyday people doing extraordinary things continue to inspire our community.

To make sense of this remarkable year, WTTW sought to address some of the most important issues of our time with our content, while educating and entertaining children and families. We are proud to be Chicago’s Window to the World, sharing the stories of women and men who have influenced Chicago, America, and the world. 

With that goal in mind, I would like to share my favorite WTTW and PBS content of 2020. My playlist is divided into three categories: Diversity, News, and Entertainment. I hope you enjoy it! Let us know what you think of the playlist and what you would add to your own!


Independent Lens: The First Rainbow Coalition

In the late 1960s, the young Black Panther leader Fred Hampton brokered an alliance between the Panthers, Puerto Rican Young Lords, and poor white Appalachian Young Patriots in Chicago to organize against poverty and lack of services. The alliance became known as the Rainbow Coalition. Hampton's life was cut short when he, along with another Panther, was killed by police in a raid on their home.

American Masters: Miles Davis — The Birth of the Cool

Documentarian Stanley Nelson is a stalwart on PBS, with numerous excellent films about Black life under his belt. This documentary about Miles Davis pulls back the curtain on the legendary jazz musician and includes never-before-seen footage and studio outtakes. 

FIRSTHAND: Coronavirus

WTTW's digital FIRSTHAND series investigates critical issues—such as gun violence and poverty—facing Chicagoans from an individual perspective. During the first, trying weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, FIRSTHAND chronicled the lives of various people whose lives were directly affected by the pandemic, from a sanitation worker to a homeless person to a small family store owner.

Reconstruction: America After the Civil War

In this four-part series, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. examines a period of American history that is all too often misunderstood and misrepresented.

Asian Americans

Asian Americans are America's fastest-growing racial/ethnic group, partially because that designation contains multitudes: Indian Americans, Korean Americans, Chinese Americans, Filipino Americans, and more. Instead of approaching Asian Americans as a monolithic group, this three-part series examines individual stories and personal narratives, from pioneering members of the military in World War II to trailblazing politicians and authors.

American Experience: The Vote

This two-part American Experience travels back more than a century to re-tell the story of the hard-fought battle to win women the right to vote. It covers both celebrated suffragists and lesser-known heroes of the movement that brought about the largest expansion of voting rights in American history. Plus, discover some of Chicago's influential suffragists.

Harbor from the Holocaust

This tells the little-known story of nearly 20,000 Jewish refugees from Nazi terror in Europe who found safety in the Chinese port city of Shanghai. 

PBS KIDS Talk About Race & Racism

This half-hour program hosted by the inaugural National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman features real conversations between parents and their children as well as content from PBS KIDS shows about race and racial justice, approached in an age-appropriate way.

Driving While Black: Space, Race and Mobility in America 

Cars offered an expansion of freedom and mobility across America, but that freedom came with additional dangers and threats for African Americans, as seen for instance in the film Green Book. Those early dangers still inform the experience of driving while Black today.

Latino Americans

From the early settlement and conquests of the 1500s through the present day, watch the story of a gradual construction of a new American identity from a multitude of diverse sources in the face of both struggle and celebration. 


Peace & Justice: A WTTW News Special and Community Discussion

This WTTW News special focuses on the frustration that poured out onto Chicago streets over the summer, outrage about police brutality, America’s deep systemic racial disparities, and possible solutions for helping our communities heal. It included an online discussion with the community.

America in Black and Blue 2020: PBS NewsHour Weekend Special

This special, an update of the original America in Black and Blue from 2016, reports from across the country and includes interviews with key leaders and participants in the struggle for racial justice, accountability and equity, as well as voices from law enforcement.

Making Sense of 2020

Follow along as WTTW News adapts to the COVID-19 pandemic and tries to make sense of a tumultous year.


Endeavour Season 7

Thursday and Morse. Photo: Mammoth ScreenPhoto: Mammoth Screen

This year's season of the mystery Endeavour may have been shorter than typical, with just three episodes, but it lacked nothing for drama and intrigue, as a series of murders along a river drive a wedge between Endeavour and Thursday. Don't miss our recaps to help you keep track of the twists and turns.

The Great Chicago Fire: A Chicago Stories Special

Image: Courtesy Chicago History MuseumImage: Courtesy Chicago History Museum

You might think you know the story of the Great Chicago Fire that devastated the city in 1871, but this WTTW documentary strips away the myths, about Mrs. O'Leary and her cow, the rebuilding of the city, and more. At a time of disruption and depression, it's worthwhile to look back at one of the great stories of recovery in the face of tragedy. Plus, you can dive further into the history at And don't miss the producers of the documentary discussing how they shed new light on an old story. 


Hugh Laurie as Peter Laurence in Roadkill. Photo: The ForgePhoto: The Forge

Hugh Laurie plays an ambitious British politician surrounded by scandals in this four-part drama. 2020 held plenty of political intrigue, but it can be nice to take a break and follow well-plotted fictional scandals. Don't worry our recaps—will help you understand them.

Chicago from the Air


Geoffrey Baer has explored Chicago in many ways, but never like this: in Chicago from the Air, he shows what can be revealed about the city and its surroundings from the air, via breathtaking drone footage. It's an altogether new perspective on the city we all know and love! Don't miss extras at