Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Ethics? On Television?

If there is anything that I watch on television regularly, it is public broadcasting. Their programming speaks to my nerdiness and there are some shining lights of excellent programming that no advertiser in their right mind would give a plug nickel to support.

There is an excellent example of this which is shown on WYCC TV-20 here in Chicago. It is called Ethics in America and is what I would almost call necessary viewing.

This is the website for the program at the Annenberg/CPB Project.
If you are in Chicago, here is the WYCC site for times (although I can tell you it is on Tuesdays at 3:00 in the morning. Might have to tape it).

Granted, these shows were taped in the last half of the 1980's. The issues discussed, however, are timeless. Medical ethics, the ethics of war, ethics in business. The form is also a joy to watch. The panel consists of many of the luminaries of the last half of the twentieth century in American politics. You will see everyone from C. Everett Koop to Antonin Scalia; from Rudy Guiliani (as a D.A.) to General William Westmoreland. The panel, naturally, is formed around the issue, but usually includes people from law, medicine, professional academia, government, media, military and religion. The moderator, usually a Harvard law professor, introduces the ethical problem in the form of a hypothetical situation and then serves as a devil's advocate/agent provocateur for the panel, changing the stipulations and situations.

The resulting discussion gets at the heart of ethical issues that will forever be at the center of American public and private life (and indeed often about where these intersect). It is high-minded intellectual blood-letting and argument at its finest. Rather rancor-free and reasoned, it is not free from provocation and leading questions. It is a joy to see the likes of Scalia squirm at the thought of a tough issue and then have to think out loud.

This is the sort of thing that should not be relegated to three in the morning on a PBS station. Oh well, I guess it dosen't paint things in black and white and it would have a tough time selling cars or shoes or beer or preppy shorts or auto insurance or whatever.

Watch it and thank me later. Or tape it, watch it later and thank me after that. Or ignore me and, well, that's about it.

1 comment:

Aaron Cynic said...

Sadly enough, we don't see any kind of debate like this these days. As you said, you can't put a pretty face on it and sell shoes. It's unfortunate that Public Broadcasting is so underfunded they can't get good advertising. With the correct marketing gimic (the same kinds of gimics that sell toothpaste and elections) it could be a hit with the masses. After all, when the Daily Show is the number one political news show of the day, we know that mainstream television is definately lacking.