Picture Power

Full Program Description

Picture Power
Television unexpectedly transforms society, culture, and politics
Original broadcast: Monday, June 21, 1999 at 9pm
(check local listings for re-broadcast dates)

"All those old stories about being shot while resisting arrest didn't work if you saw the guy with his hands up getting shot by a sheriff. Self-defense doesn't work when you're beating defenseless people. We're willing to accept lies if they make our lives easier. And television, at its best, makes it impossible to accept lies."
-- Reese Schonfeld, ABC News, United States

The Kennedy-Nixon debates. President John F. Kennedy's assassination. The Civil Rights Movement. Vietnam. Man's first steps on the moon. All became, through television, the shared experiences of humankind -- and uniquely personal and memorable events -- thanks to the immediacy of the small screen.

Television coverage of the presidential debates changed the face of politics in a single evening. Coverage of JFK's assassination brought news of the event to nearly ninety percent of the American public in the space of an hour. Television cameras carried the struggle for civil rights and the reality of racially motivated violence into millions of homes around the globe. Pictures from Vietnam accelerated the erosion of domestic support for the war, severely challenging American political institutions.

Meanwhile, state-controlled broadcasting in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc fast became a powerful new outlet for propaganda -- but also a critical engine in speeding communism's eventual collapse in East Germany and Romania.

Soon the public's main source of news and commentary, television altered the democratic process, allowing politicians to be heard by vast audiences while making them vulnerable to greater scrutiny and accountability. Governments, politicians, big business: all quickly realized the power that the "tube" could wield and employed every avenue imaginable to exercise its influence to their best advantage.

The people remember: 1939 World's Fair, coronation of Queen Elizabeth, Kennedy-Nixon debates, JFK assassination, Civil Rights Movement, power of advertising and creeping commercialism, Apollo 11 moon landing, Munich Olympics, direct satellite broadcasting, Dallas, the advent of cable, revolution in Eastern Europe.

Picture Power is written, produced, and directed by James A. DeVinney. Series senior producer is David Espar. Series executive producer for WGBH Boston is Zvi Dor-Ner; Peter Pagnamenta is executive producer for the BBC.

John Forsythe narrates.

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