Thursday, December 28, 2006

Meeting People Is Easy

Sometimes you chase a potential interview. Other times they drop right in your lap.

I received this email a few days ago:

    How strange that tonight I was at the piano noodling around with some old tunes from Mister Rogers Neighborhood - then quite by accident discovered your site! All of the wonderful recollections struck a deep chord. I met Fred in 1977 - at the start of my graduate degree in - children's TV... and we became fast friends. He would often sign his letters and emails "your forever friend." So you can imagine how I appreciated reading about your project! I feel as if the FCI family - David Newell, Sam Newberry, Hedda Sharapan, and of course Bill Isler and Elaine Lynch - are lifelong friends as well!

    I never did break into children's TV - and now run a non-profit advocacy org. in DC - while producing educational videos on occasion.

    A few months back I wrote a chapter for a book on friendship about Fred and told about Fred and the baby pacifier. If we should ever meet I would love to share it with you. And you may be interested to hear about how his favorite number reached me the day he died...

    And dang it all - I was in NY yesterday. Next time I'm in the city (which is about once every month or so) - I will try and make one of your shows. I would love to meet you.

    Anyway I just wanted to touch base with you and wish you well on the project - and to say I can't wait to see it!

    Vince Isner
    Charlottesville, VA

Everyone tells me how Fred loved bringing people together...

We'll see...

Friday, December 15, 2006

Slipping Into Deeper Lives

The thing that makes me nuts about this blog (and this film, for that matter) is my need to both demonstrate and feel that we're moving forward. On the surface, it would seem not; I haven't postd in days. In fact, though, we are. Not just literally (we're on Linda Ellerbee's calendar in January, and still working on Bill Moyers, though. There's more to this project than who we interview and what they say.

The entire undertaking reflects a desire, an ambition, a need to (as I sang in "Snapshot Summertime" way back in 1994) slip into a deeper life. To that end, then, and filtered through a "deep and simple" lens, every day has its reward.

Earlier this week, I received a rigurously considered and thoroughly thoughtful email from one of my oldest and most beloved friends, Kristan Flynn. Kristan, and her husband Jeff, are amongst my closest and favorite friends. Though distance (they live in Princeton) precludes spending a ton of time together, there's never a shortage of substantive conversation when we do snag a minute. Her email runs nearly 1300 words and covers everything from childhood obesity to Catholicism.

In considering what forces oppose that which is deep and simple, Kristan's thesis -- like Bo Lozoff's -- is that consumerism -- you are what you buy -- is largely responsible. She writes:

    We have ceded ground to the notion that our identities and contribution to the wider social context is in the most primal way determined by what we purchase and how we behave as consumers. This has been going on for quite some time, but now it seems some of the controls and safety nets in place have been removed. The fish has rotted at the head (adults - corporate scandals, congress, an illegal war) and now is reaching the tail (children). While I am more aware of this issue as it relates to food due to my studies I think it is applicable to so many arenas.

    The moment that this struck me the most was after September 11, at a time that should have been an opportunity for introspection and leadership we were told to return to normal and "normal" was defined as shopping. It made me realize, the powerful parties that had the ear of the President were communicating their greatest fears, which was "We can’t have this kill 4th quarter profits."

    We were at a point when there was an almost universal openenss to a broader challenge. A willingness to contribute, sacrifice and connect. In response we were told, there is nothing to see here and the best thing you can do is provide us your power by proxy. We'll make the big decisions, you just get out there and spend money.

I laugh every time I remember my brother saying, "What is the conflict in our movie? Every story needs a conflict." Because we couldn't be levelling responsibility any higher up the cultural org chart.

Sometimes I feel hopeless against it. All week long I've been watching Spike Lee's "When The Levees Broke" (see "With Your Feet In The Air And Your Head On The Ground" at my other web site). And all week long I've been asking myself, "Where are our priorities? How are we failing each other so miserably?" And I wonder what more I can do. Sure, I record my benefit records, and donated to The Red Cross. Sure, I speak out online and to whomever will listen. And sure, I'm working on this film. But what does it take to turn the tide against a power base that characterizes the largest single-day anti-war protest in history a "focus group"?

I'm not sure. But I sure am glad there are at least a few people, like Kristan, willing to ask the tough questions, and consider the difficult answers.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Cough, Cough

Following a brief and hope-filled respite, I am sick again.

Holly at Lucky Duck Productions has kindly accepted our apologies on behalf of Linda Ellerbee. We're postponing our interview until January.

Meanwhile, Chris has been cutting "select reels" to DVD for screening. He likes to call periodically to tease me with monologues like the following.

"I just cut a select for Stamberg. You spend, like, five minutes asking the first question, then she goes, 'You mean, Why do I work for NPR.'"

Brotherhood, indeed.

Cough, Cough.

Friday, December 01, 2006

And So It Is: Linda Ellerbee Signs On

And so it is: We're interviewing Linda Ellerbee in her office on Thursday (December 7) at 11:15.

From the Museum of Broadcast Communications:
    Linda Ellerbee, respected and outspoken broadcast journalist, has functioned as a network news correspondent, anchor, writer, producer, and is currently president of her own production company, Lucky Duck Productions. Gaining fame in the 1970s and 1980s for her stints as an NBC News Washington correspondent, Weekend co-anchor, reporter, and co-anchor of NBC News Overnight, Linda Ellerbee became a symbol for a different type of reporter: literate, funny, irreverent, and never condescending.

    Her television production company, Lucky Duck Productions, has a reputation as a supplier of outstanding children's programming. Founded with partner Rolfe Tessem in 1987 the company has won three CableAces, two Peabodys, a duPont, and an Emmy. Each week Ellerbee writes and hosts Nick News for children and young people.

Upon Fred's passing, Ms. Ellerbee told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    "His legacy will be that he made millions of children feel safe and comforted in a time when so much of the bombardment of the media is overwhelming. For everything that we all agree is bad about television and children, he was the good of it. Nothing is as bad as he was good."

At The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences 2003 tribute to Mister Rogers, she said:

    He spoke from the heart to the heart. He gave kids comfort. He gave kids ideas and knowledge. He gave them self-confidence. He gave them permission to just be kids. And he never ever talked down to them.

    He understood that kids were human beings, only younger and shorter. It’s amazing how rare that attitude is in children’s television. However, 12 years ago, when we began "Nick News," even though our audience would be older than that of Fred Rogers, I was determined to do the one thing Fred Rogers did best: I would show respect for kids.

    Why? Because they deserve it, and because it works. And sometimes I would say to myself, I wonder if Mister Rogers has seen our show? Am I doing him proud?

    And then one day, we both attended a conference at the White House on children’s television. Most people there were thrilled to be seated at the same table with the President of the United States. I thought the President of the United States ought to be thrilled to be seated at the same table with Mister Rogers. I know I was, and I introduced myself to Mister Rogers and I asked him what advice he had for "Nick News."

    He said, "Just keep it on the air. That’s the hard part."

She recently conceded that:

    She treasures a note she received from Fred Rogers, who wrote that hers was the best news show not only for kids, but also for adults. In the Mister Rogers mold, she believes "we've got to get to know one another."

To be honest with you, I'm not sure what my exact line of questioning will be. It's just so obvious that she is fighting the good fight, and walking the walk, and advocating -- whether wittingly or not -- for that which is "deep and simple." On a certain level, I'd like to float the premise, and see where the conversation goes. But then, this is a woman who anchored NBC News. I'll do some homework.