I’ve been lost in reality TV.
Reality with a small-r.
The capital-R Reality TV usually isn’t about reality - or at least not of a sort worth serious attention. It’s the sort of production showman P.T. Barnum might be producing were he alive today. It’s the kind of “reality” promoted by a circus sideshow of the sort from which Barnum made his fortune.
As is usual with Congressional hearings, there has been an element of the capital-R Reality TV in the mix. But the House Intelligence Committee’s public hearings of the impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump have had enough small-r reality moments to make them must-see TV.
Even as I write this on Thursday, I can’t help hobbling back and forth from my writing spot at the kitchen table to our living room, where our modest-screen TV resides.
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Wider coverage of the impeachment controversy has included programs about and interviews with people involved in the Clinton and Nixon impeachment hearings. And it does remind me of them, particularly of Watergate, which was my first contact with impeachment.
In the summer of 1973, I regularly stopped on my way to a summer kitchen job at Cedar Point’s Silver Dollar Café to watch snippets of the hearings.
The current impeachment coverage also has brought to my mind a program called “You Are There” that aired during my childhood - a program that brought me into the world of political awareness.
An internet search informed me that from 1953-1972, the show presented a series of programs about the events of American and world history. Because I was born in 1954 and graduated from high school in 1972, I was part of its target audience.
Hosted by CBS News icon Walter Cronkite, the episodes had a format in which historical events were reported in the format of news shows. Footage of debates or action were followed by breakout interviews of those involved in the events to advance a greater depth of understanding.
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The IMBd web site listed “The Landing of the Hindenburg”, “The Salem Witchcraft Trials”, “The Gettysburg Address” and “The Fall of Troy” as representative episodes.
But the show I best recall watching in school involved the Constitutional Convention. And it brought to life the various factions, proposals and compromises that led to the document’s acceptance as our nation’s founding document.
Even in the black-and-white filming of its early days, it gave a generation of us a window into the world we would live in. As have the impeachment hearings.
To a person who grew up on the show, the current hearings are its revival.
The hearings also remind me of Shakespeare.
Some of the most compelling productions I’ve seen of the Bard’s plays are those that have adapted the Shakespearean plots and language to modern times - that put classic characters in modern costume so that - like “You Are There” - those essential things that make those plays important in our times become more obvious.
In the Shakespearean vein, I’ve also taken considerable interest and enjoyment from the cast of characters involved in the unfolding drama. Our own Ohio congressmen Jim Jordan and Mike Turner and the committee chairmen Adam Schiff and ranking member Devin Nunes are among them.
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What a group it has been: Maria Yovanovitch, Gordon Sondland and Kurt Volker; William Taylor, bow-tied George Kent and Fiona Hill; Jennifer William, David Holmes and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.
With yet more political drama to come, I can’t help but wonder, a couple of years from now, which actors will be playing which characters when an all-star or ensemble cast - maybe on Netflix.
For those of us who can’t resist watching all this unfold, there’s an opportunity to lighten the load of living through the heavy political drama. We can get a group of friends together and, from today’s actors - or maybe actors of all time - try to decide who should play which character.
And drink, of course.
If anyone actually does this and send along a casting list, please feel free to email me at email@example.com. I’ll see if I get enough material to use.
In the meantime, I invite everyone to tune into the unfolding drama.
Years from now, you will be able to say “You Were There” watching the real actors while they were on stage.