How Just One Night
Became a Documentary
In the late 1990’s, New Hampshire witnessed a series of teen drinking and driving deaths. It seemed the traditional methods of educating young people about the dangers of drinking and driving weren't working. So, the state attorney general's office and highway safety agency decided to make a more direct appeal to the young people of the state. Highway Safety Director Peter Thomson says “We knew we needed to reach school kids. That rash of deaths was the reason we targeted juniors and seniors. Generally, once they get their license and start to get more independent - those were the ones we targeted.” The state agencies began with mock trials of DWI cases in – bringing in the state toxicologist, and medical examiner, and prosecuting attorney. In nearly every instance, the young people came back with guilty verdicts. Thomson recalls “That approach did well and ran its course – and then we heard of Tom Boyle.”
In early 1997, Tom Boyle had already served more than two years of his sentence at the New Hampshire state prison when he received a visitor. It was Rod Forey, the state trooper who had arrested Tom. Rod had a proposal: that Tom tell his story to audiences of high school and college students. Tom agreed, and began the first of more than 50 presentations. To date, he has spoken to more than 100,000 people on the topic of impaired driving.
In late 1997, New Hampshire Public Television general manager Peter Frid saw one of Tom’s presentations. He was impressed and suggested that I go see Tom speak to high school students. A few weeks later, I saw Tom speak to about 600 students in his home town at Pembroke Academy. It was an eye-opening experience. For nearly 50 minutes, hundreds of teenagers sat silent and listened to Tom tell his life story. It is a tale, as Tom says, of “making all the right choices but one.” I knew immediately that this was a story that should be captured for television, so that the greatest possible number of people could hear Tom’s message.
After several months of production including a week of coordinating the activities of a 9-man television crew in the state prison, Just One Night was first broadcast in October, 1998. We can never know how many lives may be saved through such efforts, but I and everyone involved in this project believe that if even one person, young or old, is given pause for thought by Tom’s story, it will have been worth the effort.
Just One Night has been broadcast by public television stations in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Idaho and Arkansas, and is now being distributed nationally by PBS. It has received the 1999 NH Bar Association Award and has been nominated for a New England Emmy Award and a national correctional systems award. Most importantly, it is being used by every high school in New Hampshire.
Just One Night will soon be the focus of a pilot program of court-ordered intervention in New Hampshire district courts. By late 1999, in selected courts, under-age offenders convicted of an alcohol-related offense will be enrolled in a program that incorporates viewing of Just One Night.