Mitt Romney declared in last week’s presidential debate that he’d do away with the Public Broadcasting Service. Maybe it was because he’d been given an advance look at “Frontline’s” essential election primer, “The Choice 2012”.
Killing public television along with federal arts funding has been on the Republican agenda for years. But Romney was unusually blunt: Move me into the White House and say goodbye to “Frontline,” “POV,” “The Civil War,” “Nature,” “American Masters,” “Sesame Street,” “Live From Lincoln Center” and “Masterpiece Theatre,” among others.
PBS isn’t just Peter, Paul & Mary and James Taylor at telethon time. It’s been part of the fabric of our democracy ever since President Kennedy’s Federal Communications Commission chairman Newton Minnow called commercial TV a “vast wasteland.”
And of course it’s been a thorn in the side of politicians of every stripe, but mostly conservative Republicans.
Consider “The Choice,” which views Romney as a shape-shifting businessman, “a turnaround specialist” who “crafted himself to meet the politics of the moment.”
Barack Obama is an astute, if pie-in-the-sky, politician, “whose promise to unite the country ran into the harsh reality of politics.”
The two-hour documentary could stand as the most concise, level-headed political biography we’re likely to get this election season.
Directed by “Frontline” producer Michael Kirk (whose recent “Money, Power and Wall Street” was equally clarifying), “Choice” begins its dual narratives with notable failures: Romney’s disastrous 1994 debate for Senate with incumbent Ted Kennedy, and Obama’s 2000 loss to Congressional incumbent Bobby Rush.
Both defeats were formative. Rush publicly dismissed Obama as “an educated fool,” tapping into perceptions of aloofness and arrogance that would dog the future president. Kennedy schooled a flustered Romney on policy.
The program then delves into the early years of candidates, interviewing family, friends, colleagues and journalists.
“The Choice” finds fascinating nuggets in these well-worn histories. In his 1972 high school yearbook, Obama thanks a pal named Ray, the school’s pot dealer, while a young Romney rarely spoke of his great-grandfather’s five wives and 30 children.
“Frontline,” though, isn’t after the salacious. “Choice” uses the personal facts to build convincing profiles of political character.
“He had come to see himself as a White Knight,” says the narrator, describing Romney’s years at Bain Capital, when investor profits in struggling companies often came at the expense of workers’ jobs. “He could fix almost anything.”
“The Choice 2012” airs Oct. 9 on most PBS stations at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: ****
“Thank God for Auto-Tune,” snipes a record producer, as a sexy country music siren struggles through a song.
“Nashville,” ABC’s tasty new backstage drama, needs no such help. It’s “Smash” gone country, with pitch-perfect twang and credible concert performances free of elaborate music-video nonsense.
Connie Britton plays Rayna Jaymes, a country singer just beginning a downward slip after 20 years of superstardom.
Her record label is demanding that she sign on as the opening act for rising star Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), a Taylor Swift type with more looks than talent.
Created by Callie Khouri (who wrote “Thelma & Louise”), “Nashville” pits the two divas against one another, surrounds them with entourages, backstabbers and dreamers, and somehow mostly avoids “Valley of the Dolls” bitchiness.
“My mama was one of your biggest fans,” says the bratty Juliette upon meeting Rayna. “She’d listen to you when I was still in her belly.”
“Nashville” airs Oct. 10 on ABC at 10 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***1/2
What the Stars Mean: ***** Fantastic **** Excellent *** Good ** So-So * Poor (No stars) Avoid
(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Elin McCoy on wine and Craig Seligman on books.