*Could public television be making a full-on, full-blown comeback? In the past few years, the venerable institution seems to have become an afterthought in the television world – overshadowed by the reality-show ratings smashes on the networks, the big budgets of the premium channels, and the boundary-pushing dramas and comedies on the cable networks.

Lately, though, there seems to a bit of a buzz seeping back into the stodgy world populated by Sesame Street and Bob Ross. The network has its first bona fide hit in … well, forever, with the Masterpiece Theater adaptation of Downton Abbey, a soapy and captivating slice-of-life look at Edwardian England. Abbey‘s ratings were enough to grab some major headlines and generate a true wave of Mad Men­-like interest in its subject matter.

Let’s hope that same sort of enthusiasm will prompt viewers to tune into some of the truly exceptional, minority-centric documentaries that PBS has scheduled for 2012. The network has always done very well with its focus on minority programming – seen in figures like Tavis Smiley, Henry Louis Gates, and Michael Eric Dyson – but they’ve done just as well with intriguing and enlightening specials.

Just in the first few months of the year, we’ll see the documentary Slavery by Another Name  and the newest special from the truly amazing Anna Deveare Smith, Let Me Down Easy.

Both promise to be exceptionally worthy television viewing – let’s hope more people tune into these than the newest Kardashian episode.