Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"Must Watch"

A year ago I was persuaded to aid the fund raising efforts of the local barbershop male chorus by going around as a member of a quartet that sold singing valentines to husbands, wives and significant others. I wrote about it in this space - "My Day as an Old Guy". They got their hooks in me again this year, and our singing duties expanded to parts of three days. My advice? Don't hire us unless your baby has a high tolerance for embarrassment or else she/he just REALLY likes that kind of music. I find it tolerable once or twice a year.

Sometime after cable TV became a common micro-luxury of American homes, we stopped talking in public about what we saw on the tube last night. In fact, most of us like to brag about how busy we are and therefore just don't watch much. Anyway, your chances of reviewing a specific telecast with another person are reduced considerably when you have two or three hundred options every hour.
I'm not going to lecture anyone about their choice of age-appropriate viewing. Are there things that should NEVER be seen? Probably, but let's leave that discussion to be led by someone else.
I will say that you are missing something of value if you don't try to see EVERY production of "Frontline", the PBS entry in the endangered category of investigative TV journalism.
I'll give you three examples of what I mean. Two or three years ago, they showed the operation of a small-town funeral home, run by a man who is also a poet. The employees were shown taking on their usual assigned tasks, the owner, a second generation funeral director, gave his observations having dealt with families in all kinds of situations, and some of them were shown, too. But the most memorable image was that of a little boy, just three, who had been born with a collection of physical problems that left him unable to experience much of life. His parents, a couple in their thirties, had known of the boy's approaching death for a long time. The mother was especially articulate in describing her experience. She was a rare TV character, not speaking for her own benefit, yet articulate, loving and even attractive in a way that virtuous people sometimes are, in an unselfconscious way. The program wasn't meant to change the world, but I found it compelling.
Better known would be the longer program entitled "Bush's War". In this one, extensive use is made of the "historical present" tense. You know - "Nero reaches for his instrument as the flames come into view." Still photos taken inside the White House are followed by the stories of those who had been there, or who knew what had transpired. The "Frontline" voice guy ( I don't know how else to describe him) leads us to some inevitable conclusions, none of them favorable to the Bush administration. I did generate some sympathy for Colin Powell, but I'll probably never feel Dick Cheney's pain. The guy really IS like Darth Vader.
Last week, the Frontline broadcast made the often-confusing events of last summer/fall's financial meltdown much easier to understand. Here was one picture after another of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, a formidable looking man, a Wall Street veteran and champion for the "no regulation" school of business, with his brow furrowed and dark, gloomy shadows across his face as he realized that he was actually over his head. And there was scholarly Bob Bernanke, head of the Federal Reserve, looking for ways to legally do what everyone knew knew had to be done. The financial wounded and dying - Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, AIG, and even Merrill Lynch, were shown as things spun out of control, not ftom too much government regulsation, but from not ENOUGH of it. You can draw a straight line from that moment to our current business debacle.
I won't pound today's thesis any further. I now believe that if PBS had nothing to offer other than its children's programming and Frontline, that the PBS donation that they want to sqeeze out of you would still be money well spent. I recall when the NBC lineup of comedies were referred to as "must see TV". Frontline is "Must Watch".


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