Contenders 16 for ‘16 | CET Connect

Contenders 16 for ‘16

Posted by Kellie May on

As part of our election programming, ThinkTV and CET will begin airing The Contenders: 16 for ’16 at 8pm on Tuesday, September 13. This new eight-part series reveals the humanity, the twists of fate and the surprising mistakes behind 16 of the most compelling and tumultuous presidential campaigns. Each 60-minute episode features two candidates whose stories appear vastly different on the surface, but share common elements that changed the outcomes of campaigns and the course of history.

The series kicks off with one such unlikely pair: 1970s presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm, the first black American and first female to run for the country’s top post, and Senator John McCain, who ran against Barack Obama in 2008. Despite extraordinarily different backgrounds, Chisholm and McCain both ran as plain-spoken outsiders. Chisholm’s slogan, “Unbossed and Unbought,” was underscored by a grassroots approach that saw her teams collecting cash in the streets, while McCain’s image as an outspoken maverick often led him to talk off-the-cuff. The show depicts game-changing moments in both campaigns: Chisholm’s betrayal by a friend in the House of Representatives who, at the last moment, decided he would not officially nominate her; and a revealing off-camera show-down between McCain and George W. Bush just prior to a live debate.

Week two of The Contenders revisits the campaigns of former Vermont Governor Howard Dean and conservative insider Pat Buchanan — men of two divergent perspectives who were seen as insurrectionists within their own parties. Dean brought “participatory democracy” innovations to his campaign, such as the introduction of Internet fundraising that is now a standard part of campaigns. Buchanan—a so-called “paleo-conservative” insider who served several American presidents and advocated a strong move rightward for the Republican Party—ran twice for the Republican presidential nomination (1992 and 1996) and on the Reform Party ticket in 2000. Despite the strategies, scripts, data analysis and marketing that went into these campaigns, it was, again, the human moments that led to their unpredicted outcomes.

See the full rundown of match-ups on our featured programs page for The Contenders at or

“The roster of participants and the unexpected pairings in The Contenders make this a must-watch series for anyone fascinated by the intrigue of national campaigns,” Beth Hoppe, Chief Programming Executive and General Manager of General Audience Programming for PBS, said in a press release. “Every U.S. presidential election is not only a reflection on the current times, but also of the races that came before it.”  

The Contenders: 16 for ’16 will air at 8pm on ThinkTV16 and CET on eight consecutive Tuesdays starting on September 13. This show is part of PBS Election 2016, a multi-platform initiative that brings together PBS news, public affairs, documentary and digital programming to create the country’s most complete coverage of the 2016 election cycle.