The First Ladies Shows The Power Of A Woman In The Presidency

Courtesy: PBS

There’s an old adage that states something to the effect of behind every great man is a great woman.  That couldn’t be more wrong.  Women don’t stand behind any man.  The proper adage should state that NEXT TO every great man is an equally great woman.  PBS’ special, The First Ladies is proof of that.  This two-disc, seven hour special from the network’s “American Experience” program presents five of the first ladies who have stood by their husbands and showed that they were just as great as their husbands at the same time.

Among the most influential of the five First Ladies profiled in this double disc set is the one and only Eleanor Roosevelt.  Mrs. Roosevelt had quite the life.  The profile on Mrs. Roosevelt takes up a large portion of the set’s seven hours, clocking in at just under two and a half hours.  It takes viewers on a journey from her birth to her death.  That’s right.  Her story doesn’t end when her husband died.  Throughout her life, Eleanor Roosevelt showed that she took some advice from her uncle (by marriage) Teddy very seriously.  Teddy told her when she was young, that she should never show fear.  She obviously took that to heart, as she became a fearless advocate for civil rights and women’s rights.  She became so active that she was under constant surveillance by the F.B.I.  Even after discovering that her husband, FDR, had had an affair with another woman, she showed no fear.  She stood up to him, and essentially forced him to give up his affair.  One can’t help but admit that probably if not for Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR might not have held office for three terms.  As The First Ladies shows, hers was a very powerful influence on public opinion of her husband.  She definitely didn’t stand behind FDR.  She stood beside him in every sense of the word. 

Just as Eleanor Roosevelt stood by and worked right by her husband, so did Nancy Reagan.  Nancy developed a reputation outside the White House as being little more than another version of a certain other former first lady.  But behind the scenes, she was quite the hard working and serious individuals.  And according to Mrs. Reagan herself, she was right there at the late President’s side because she was interested in the people that surrounded him.  She played a direct role in the people in her husband’s cabinet, as well as other factors.  As one person interviewed for this segment noted, she was almost sort of a Mary Todd Lincoln figure in that she seemed to want to make the White House itself a reflection of the power of the position of President.  Just one example of that was how Mrs. Reagan raised private funding to purchase new china for hosting state dinners, and for re-decorating certain rooms of the White House.  As much as she worked behind the scenes, The First Ladies is much like The Presidents in that it shows no bias.  It shows everything that made her an influential First Lady.  In the same breath, it also shows the view that the public had of her because of her personality in front of the cameras.  That reputation was not exactly a good one.  She and her husband developed the reputation as socializing only with the super rich, which was contradictory to the job of the President.  The job of the President and First Lady is to work for Americans.  So spending so much time with the people who helped to get him elected made both Mr. and Mrs. Reagan look very bad.  But again, this feature pulls no punches.  It even shows Nancy’s reaction to those views.  It offers archived footage showing her poking fun at herself as a result of those personal media opinions.  That archived footage helps to paint a much broader picture of Nancy Reagan as First Lady.

The archived footage and interviews culled for each segment in The First Ladies go a long way toward making all seven hours of this special all the more informative and interesting.  The First Ladies may only be comprised of two discs.  But being that it has seven hours worth of material, and focuses on five of the most influential First Ladies in our nation’s history, there is enough material here for an entire semester’s worth of classes both in public schools and college level courses.  It’s an interesting piece of American history both inside and outside the classroom.  And it can be ordered online now via PBS’ online store,

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to and “Like” it or its companion page,  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at  

The Presidents Re-Issue Adds Even More For Audiences

Courtesy: PBS

Binders, Bigbird, and great balls of fire.  Both our current President and his opponent are all over the television and radio this year.  And it’s not entirely for good reasons, either.  How many people out there remember the debates between other presidential candidates?  For that matter, how many people out there can name even half of the men who have led this great nation?  Thanks to PBS, both general viewers and students alike will be reminded of nearly a dozen of those men.  From Roosevelt to Truman to Reagan all the way up to Bill Clinton, this seventeen disc set is an excellent watch for anyone who has any interest in politics and political science both inside and outside the classroom.

There are those who have made certain allegations about PBS.  But in watching this series, perhaps those same people will change their tune in seeing how wrong they are.  It is a fully unbiased look at the lives of some of our nation’s most well known and respected leaders.  It pulls no punches, showing each President in his high times and low.  For instance, the program focusing on Clinton leaves nothing out, including the scandal centered on former intern Monica Lewinsky.  Perhaps one of the most interesting facts from the newly added piece on Clinton was that he apparently originally did not want to get involved in the Serbian conflict in the late 1990s.  From what the feature notes, he originally wanted to leave that conflict to NATO forces.  But amid growing pressure from the national and international community, he finally gave in and took the lead in the air war that ended things there.   His ongoing conflict with then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was just as interesting.  Any movie buff will see some similarities to the Frank Capra helmed 1939 movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in the pair’s ongoing conflict.

Another of the more interesting segments included in this updated re-issue focused on President Harry Truman.  Anyone who has any interest or knowledge of Presidential history will find his history to be unlike any of the other Presidents featured in the set.  Truman, as documented in the set, came from the most humble of roots.  He grew up in a less than well-to-do family in Missouri.  He was unlike nearly every President before and since.  He ended up marrying his wife Bessie after having first met her when he was only five years old.  Through all the years that he could have strayed, his heart never did.  Even when he spent part of his young adult life in Kansas City, he never strayed a single bit.  At that time, as the feature notes, Kansas City was a rather seedy area.  So seeing that he didn’t break from his upbringing even then is incredible.  Even more interesting is that even after having married Bessie, he moved into her mother’s home with her and dealt with her mother for many years without even the slightest problem from him.  There is so much more that audiences will learn about Truman here as he gets two of the discs in the total seventeen discs included in the set, as does Clinton.

The features on Clinton and Truman are just a couple examples of what viewers can expect in this newly re-issued set.  Also included are:  Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, LBJ, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter.  The material on these presidents is more than enough to last an entire semester for a college level political science class and an entire academic year in a public high school.

The Presidents is available now.  It can be ordered online at PBS’ online store,

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to and “Like” it or its companion page,  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at

History Channel gets a positive vote for “The Presidents

The United States of America has been led by forty-three different individuals since George Washington took the reins of the country in 1789.  Our current President, Barack Obama, is the nation’s forty-fourth president.  Now, over two-hundred and twenty years later, a large number of Americans can more easily name top celebrities through history than can name the men who have led this great nation.  Enter the History Channel.  The network will release the most recent update to its hit documentary mini-series, “The Presidents:  The Lives and Legacies of the Leaders of The United States.”

“The Presidents” is based on the book To The Best of My Ability.  The book was edited by Pulitzer Prize winning author James M. McPherson.  This new four-disc set examines the lives of each man who has taken the oath of office from George Washington to George W. Bush.  As an added bonus, the documentary includes an episode of Biography that centers on current President Barack Obama.  That addition is the only extra bonus to the set this time out.  The remaining bonus features have been carried over from the set’s previous release.  Being that seven years have passed between the upcoming re-issue of this set and the last release–and 2012 being an election year–it’s a welcome refresher for audiences of all ages.

“The Presidents” is a great refresher for audiences of all ages.  In watching it, it’s obvious that it’s especially suited for a classroom setting.  Each President is introduced via a trading card style profile.  Each one notes the main focus points of each President’s life.  This allows educators to stop the documentary, and allow students to take notes.  It’s an ingenious tool for students who may be visual learners.  The trivia segments are also great for visual learners.  What’s more, those segments provide solid stopping points for teachers.  It would allow for discussion time in the classroom, before returning to the documentary.

Speaking of dicussion, “The Presidents” is loaded with discussion topics during each president’s time in office.  Those topics range from the obscure to the controversial.  For example, one little known fact included in the presidency of James Madison was that his wife, Dolly, had a taste for oyster flavored ice cream.  Real appetizing, huh?  Being that the nation is in the midst of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, teachers can add in discussions that New England had actually threatened to secede from the Union nearly a century before the Civil War.

“The Presidents” doesn’t throw any punches with any of the presidents.  Through interviews with experts and academics, it touches on the good, the bad and the ugly with each President.  For instance, it touches on the 1828 race between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams.  That election is known today, as the dirtiest election in history.  It also goes into the Bank War of 1832, and the resulting fallout for Martin Van Buren.  This sort of issue has happened with every presidency since, in America’s political history.  It’s just one more important fact that both students and general audiences will find eye opening.

This update to History Channel’s docu-series is loaded with more information than can be discussed here.  It’s enough for a semester long college class, or even a year-long high school course.  But the educational content isn’t all that makes this set so impressive.  The set’s packaging is worthy of applause, too.  It directly affects the discs’ longevity.  Each disc in the set has its own spot on “plates” in the case.  This is being increasingly done with multi-disc sets.  It virtually eliminates the risk of the discs being scratched when being placed in or removed from the case.  In turn, that increases the overall life of the set.  So kudos to the History Channel for this.  What’s more the case itself is the same size of a case ofr a single dvd.  This is ergonomically smart in itself.

“The Presidents” has so many high points.  To note them all would be to ramble on endlessly.  So suffice to say that whether during this election year or an off year, “The Presidents” is a great addition to the library of any educator or general viewer.