The :30 Second Candidate


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It's the day before the first congressional election of 1998, and California media consultant Jackie Breedlove has her work cut out for her. She's never had a client lose an election, but now she's facing more than just an opposing candidate. Outside groups are flooding the airwaves, pushing their own agendas and trying to alter the outcome of this special election. How Breedlove tries to outflank this controversial new trend is one of several scenes captured in THE 30-SECOND CANDIDATE, a new one-hour documentary adventure into the world of political advertising.

From California to south Georgia to small-town elections in the Midwest, the 30-second TV spot now dominates American politics. THE 30-SECOND CANDIDATE explores the evolution of this political art form, its growth and some possible options for reform. THE 30-SECOND CANDIDATE traces the history of the political TV ad,from its beginning during the 1952 presidential campaign of Dwight D. Eisenhower through the last presidential campaign of 1996.

Commentators include Robert Squier, who put together President Clinton's advertising campaign in 1996, and Alex Castellanos, who played the same role for Republican challenger Bob Dole. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Dean of the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, and Jeff Greenfield of CNN add their observations and help dissect ad techniques.

The program also follows all three candidates in California's recent Democratic primary for governor, in which one contender, Al Checchi, spent $40 million -- and lost. The documentary captures the closing days of that campaign and assesses what happened and why.

THE 30-SECOND CANDIDATE also takes viewers inside congressional races in Minnesota and southern Georgia to see how a media campaign unfolds, from strategy sessions to editing commercials. The documentary provides an unusual "fly-on-the-wall" perspective on a process few people get to see.

The future of political advertising is considered by profiling the work of a new organization called the Alliance for Better Campaigns. The group was organized by Paul Taylor, a former Washington Post political reporter who became disenchanted with both the system and how it was covered. The Alliance is trying to reform how campaigns are conducted and covered in 10 different states this fall.

is part of the PBS Democracy Project,
an initiative designed to stimulate
citizen engagement in civic life.

The program is a production of Wisconsin Public Television with contributions from KCTS, Seattle; WETA, Washington, D.C.; and KTCA, St. Paul, MN. THE 30-SECOND CANDIDATE is funded by Public Television Viewers, PBS and Wisconsin Public Television.

Executive in charge of production: Dave Iverson.
Executive producer: Kathy Bissen.


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