Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tell Me a Story

This is a rave for PBS's "Prohibition".

I've borrowed the title of Don Hewitt's autobiography as the headline for this post, because Don always used the expression to explain the concept behind the singular success of his "60 Minutes", the longest running primetime series in TV network history. Of course, all documentaries have a story to tell and/or a message to convey, but too often the latter aim overwhelms the former, leaving us with a worthy, but not overly engaging, viewing experience; especially one that demands our close attention for a cumulative five and a half hours.

Producers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have managed to deliver both story and message as adroitly as any documentary I have ever seen, and I say this as an alumnus of the so-called "Tiffany network" era at CBS News. "Prohibition" is not – nor does it aspire to be – of as cosmically important subject matter as some classics of the documentary genre, but it more than admirably fulfils its promise and, not so incidentally, is more fun than a barrel of schnapps.

Watch it; you'll enjoy it, while painlessly learning a lot about 20th century American history, the Constitution, the astonishing power of popular movements, and how to become a home brewer without attracting undue attention from the ATF.

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