The Presidents review by Tom Blain
For the most part standard cable television is a damn shame. In an ideal world, or at least one that I would have a hand in creating, each channel would mean something. It would stick to its guns and represent what its name states it represents. There are few channels that really stick to their original charter or even come close to reflecting what they really show. Turner Classic Movies is the shining example. Classic films, from silent to the golden age of black and white to Technicolor, Panorama, Valdorama, all the ramas of the 50s and 60s to even some more recent films (but not too many). Channels like Bravo, The Learning Channel, Discovery and the History channel usually tread all over their original intentions in order to build up ratings on bottom of the barrel entertainment. Bravo was all things high class and culture; now its the rainbow flagship. The Learning Channel is the freak show channel: Midgets, Tatood people, People with Guiness World Record sized families, etc. The one that gets me the most is the History Channel. Shows like Gangland, Biblecode: Predicting Armageddon, and In the World ofJack the Ripper seem more concerned with the history gloom, doom, crime, and evil than history.
But if there is one thing we can all depend on to pick up the slack for these cable station run-aways its PBS. And for my history jones-n there is a little show called the American Experience. This show represents about 75% of what I think should be on the History Channel. A recent boxed set called The Presidents illustrates what I mean. The 16 DVD set covering the lives of 10 presidents from the 20th century (from Theodore Roosevelt to George HW Bush with a few gaps in between). Each documentary is ~2-4 hours long and filled with biographical footage of each president, leading them from birth through the formative years up to and past their presidency. Contributors include author/historian David McCullough, and multiple presidents descendants and family members. This is the kind of set that I wish was around when I was in grade-school; it would have been a major help in writing history papers.
The goal of each documentary is not to build up each man as a saint of US Government, but rather to reveal each mans character and build up how they became a leader of the free world. As a set, they prove that there is no single path to the white house, but many unique unusual paths that each great man has followed. FDR had to overcome the stigma of his paralyzing disease before he could become so great. Harry Truman was a farmer and a failed haberdasher with no college education. George Bush was a business man who lost his first congressional election and was Chairman of the Republican National Committee during the Watergate Crisis. Each story is a testament to the U.S. diversity.
The main drawback of the DVD set is not with the specific content (although at times, too much is spent on the presidents past and less on what they did in office). My major complaint would be with the gaps. For a DVD set that contains Jimmy Carter and George Bush (two 1-termers), Im very shocked at the omission of Dwight Eisenhower. One of the DVDs is entitled simply The Kennedys. Why couldnt they have used one DVD to wrap up presidents Harding, Coolidge, Hoover to fill in a 12 year gap? Its really a minor hang-up.
The Presidents DVD Set is an extremely satisfying set for any history buff. It would make a great gift for any fan of good historical documentary. There is a teachers guide on most DVDs so it can be used for education.
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