TV Ushers in School Year With New Series and Documentaries

By Mark Walsh — September 09, 1992 4 min read
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Just as the arrival of September means a return to school for most students, for television networks it signals the time for their annual spate of education documentaries and specials.

NBC kicked off the season late last month with a one-hour news special hosted by its anchorman, Tom Brokaw. “The Brokaw Report--America’s Schools: Pass or Fail?’' featured in-depth reports on a Colorado school that offers health and social services, a Philadelphia high school that has improved its dropout rate, and a Los Angeles magnet high school with a 32-year-old principal.

The show concluded with a panel discussion that included Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, during which Mr. Brokaw repeatedly referred to the Bush Administration’s America 2000 reform plan as “Education 2000.’'

This is the really big week for education specials. On Sept. 8, CBS will air a two-hour program produced by the entertainment industry, “Back to School ‘92.’'

Hosted by the comedian Sinbad, the special features such actors as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Whoopi Goldberg, and Robin Williams exploring the pressures on today’s students and attitudes about the state of the education system. The show was produced by Education First!, a nonprofit group formed by several prominent Hollywood producers and entertainment executives. It is scheduled to air at 8 P.M. Eastern and Pacific times.

The Public Broadcasting Service will top all others this week by making available to its member stations more than 15 hours of education-related programming.

As usual, the network is repeating some well-regarded education documentaries from recent years, but much of the programming consists of new documentaries and season premieres for educational series aimed at both parents and pupils.

Funding Equity Examined

One new documentary examines students at the edge of failure and what schools are doing to help those most at risk. “A Cry From the Edge’’ is a one-hour documentary presented by Los Angeles public station KCET-TV.

The show examines programs at Apopka High School outside Orlando, Fla., Phillips Middle School in New Orleans, and Central Park East Elementary School in New York City, among others. Among the educators who comment during the program are Linda Darling-Hammond of Columbia University’s Teachers College, Robert S. Peterkin of Harvard University, and Superintendent Robert Spillane of Fairfax County, Va.

“A Cry From the Edge’’ is slated to air at 9 P.M. on Sept. 8. (Although PBS has a national programming schedule, local stations frequently change air dates or times for shows, so viewers should check local listings.)

The journalist Bill Moyers will examine the school-finance equity issue and the education records of the two Presidential candidates in the Sept. 8 edition of his show, “Listening to America with Bill Moyers.’'

The show features a report on two public schools in the Bronx that receive greatly different funding, a segment that was produced by students at New York City’s Educational Video Center. The show is scheduled for 10 P.M. Eastern time.

The new season also sees the premiere of a monthly magazine program on education issues hosted by John Merrow, the former education correspondent for National Public Radio and for PBS’s “The MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour.’'

Mr. Merrow had a similar show on cable television’s the Learning Channel, but he recently left the cable outlet to “come back home to PBS,’' he said in an interview. “PBS is the natural home for a show about learning,’' he commented.

Each hourlong edition of the new “Learning Matters’’ will have such regular features as a report on educational technology, samplings of student opinion from a network of several dozen high school and college campus correspondents, and an essay by Mr. Merrow.

The show will check in periodically on three first-year teachers, including a recent college graduate and two people who gave up other jobs for the classroom.

“Learning Matters’’ will supplement the monthly show with viewers’ guides, quarterly teleconferences for educators, and videotapes.

One drawback is that the show is not on the national PBS schedule; it is being “soft-fed’’ to stations to schedule as they see fit.

Many stations are showing the first edition this week, so viewers should once again check local listings.

An Eye on the Arts

Much of the PBS programming this week is aimed not just at adults but at children and families.

The veteran journalist Edwin Newman is the host of “On Television: Teach the Children,’' a one-hour critical look at the impact of commercial television on children and education. The show provides parents with tips on how to help improve children’s television. It is scheduled to air at 9 P.M. on Sept. 9.

The actress Lisa Bonet, formerly of “The Cosby Show,’' is the host of “Why Bother Voting?’' a one-hour comedy special designed to get young people interested in registering and voting. The show airs at 8 P.M. on Sept. 9.

The magicians Penn and Teller are the hosts of a major new PBS children’s series on the visual and performing arts, “Behind the Scenes,’' which premieres this week.

The first episode, scheduled for 8:30 P.M. on Sept. 8, focuses on the painter David Hockney. Each episode of the 10-part, half-hour series will include animation, computer graphics, humor, and magic to help make artistic concepts come alive for children.

McDonald’s Family Restaurants, one of the arts series’ major underwriters, is distributing teachers’ guides, family viewing guides, and toys tied to the show.

PBS’s most ambitious new children’s series will not air for another month. “Ghostwriter,’' a weekly mystery series focusing on literacy for 7- to 10-year-olds, is scheduled to debut Oct. 4.


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