America is one of the greatest nations in the world today. However, as Constitution USA with Peter Sagal points out, it isn’t a perfect nation. The four-part documentary sees the host of NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me making his way across the country discussing some of the major hot button issues in America today, and how they relate to the Constitution. More specifically, he discusses how specific portions of the Bill of Rights and of the Constitution itself still play a major role in Americans’ political views today. It is one of the most impressive pieces of the year from PBS as it takes some very deep concepts and makes them easy to understand and entertaining all at the same time.
Constitution USA with Peter Sagal is unlike so many political documentaries that are out there today. It doesn’t talk down to viewers, nor does it talk over their heads, either. The people behind this program have shown that PBS can be intellectual while still being on the level of average viewers. One of the figures interviewed in the course of the program is a lawyer. She notes in her interview with Sagal that her job is to take the legal jargon written and spoken, and interpret it for her clients. That’s what Sagal and company do in this program. They take the over-the-top political jargon and make it easy for average viewers to understand and appreciate. It really serves as a solid starting point for anyone that has any interest in politics. And it serves to prove even to PBS’ brass that it is possible to make programming that is both entertaining and enlightening for average viewers. Perhaps if more of PBS’ politically based programming takes this course, it could potentially lead to more eyes and in turn, more contributions to the network. It’s one more piece that proves just how valuable and important PBS is to viewers to this day.
Sagal and company make politics accessible and entertaining for average viewers of any age through Constitution USA. They have also crafted a feature that through its roughly four-hour run time, is entirely unbiased. Opinions are shared on both sides of the issues through Sagal’s interviews. What’s more, they are shared by every day people, rather than politicians. This circles back to the ease of understanding and entertainment value for audiences throughout all four segments of the program. This is because in using a variety of subjects for interviews, audiences are seeing people just like themselves sharing their opinions instead of only some talking head in a stuffed shirt. Of course, Sagal’s own rapport with his interviewees helps set these people at ease just like he does on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. He has taken his interview skills from his NPR news quiz show and translated it so well to this format. In its own way, this is another positive to this presentation.
As minor as it may seem, Sagal’s rapport with his subjects plays its own part in the success of Constitution USA. Far too often, political documentaries are presented either with a nameless, faceless narrator that speaks off camera over the presented material. This is the exact opposite of those all too common presentations. Whether or not audiences are familiar with Peter Sagal from his show on NPR, they will enjoy watching him as he gathers information and opinions from people on every level from ordinary citizens to academics and even politicians. Sagal shows time and again his ability to talk to anyone at any level. He shows that he has the ability to get them to loosen up and open up, rather than put on airs. It’s a refreshing change of pace, especially being that this is a documentary about politics. What’s more, his interviews are held in a variety of settings. They’re not always in some sterile office environment. Many of the interviews culled for the show are held outside or in classrooms. That plays into Sagal’s interviews. Because they aren’t all done inside those sterile office environments, they help establish a calmer mood both for the interviewees and for viewers. Much like the use of colors in a movie or TV show, the variety of settings is a very psychological aspect. Viewers won’t entirely recognize it on the surface, but it very much plays a role in keeping audiences’ attention. Combined with everything else that went into bringing it together, it is one more piece of the puzzle proving the importance and value of Constitution USA with Peter Sagal. It also serves to prove just why w as Americans need to better understand the Constitution. It is available now and can be ordered online via the PBS online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=20427076&cp=&sr=1&kw=constitution+usa&origkw=Constitution+USA&parentPage=search.
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