With the seeming nonstop reporting on the Presidential race, you’d think there’d be nothing but repetition in “The Choice,” the regular in-depth look at the campaign every four years on “Frontline” (PBS, 9 p.m., check local listings).
On the contrary, the remarkable report shows how poor and focused on polls the rest of the reporting has regularly been.
“The Choice” this time is both timely and timeless. Without planning on it, it comments perfectly on the first debate last week by showing a remarkable 1994 debate with Ted Kennedy for his senate seat. Kennedy was effective and electrifying in a way Obama was not last week — and using what were a lot of the same issues, with Kennedy pouncing on Romney on his lack of specifics.
At the same time, there is deep reporting about the family issues of both candidates, how Obama went from fun-loving guy to someone more serious, who let down his progressive friends who thought he’d do more when he was named the first editor of the Harvard law Review of color. And how Romney has had a history of tailoring his message to win an election.
One of the main tasks, said filmmaker Michael Kirk, is to convince people that something new is said about both men.
“A lot of people think they know everything about Barack Obama,” Kirk told reporters at the TV critics’ press tour. “And you’ve got a candidate in Romney who seems very controlled, very hidden in some ways in terms of the major events that have happened in his life, his Mormonism, that is, his faith, and his life in the business world in Bain Capital.
“For us, because we have the time and the imperative, it took us a year to engage in doing this, and we have found much to our surprise a very interesting and different Barack Obama even than we reported on in 2008,” Kirk said. “And Mitt Romney, surprise of all surprises, and his story turns out to not only be very important, but also engaging and interesting, and I think in ways that the viewers and the voters who consume this on the basis of the nightly news and the newspapers are not going to have seen the two candidates that we’ll reveal in our program.”
As for that Kennedy-Romney debate that starts the film, Kirk said, “it is a devastating moment both for Romney and a fascinating moment in his life to have such a failure at such an early stage and then emerge to be the man he is today.
“One thing you can say about Mitt Romney as you look back is he learns,” he added. Kirk said the $45 million he spent in 2008 running for president “he considers tuition for where he is today.”
In addition to the “Frontline” broadcast, “The Choice,” an essential part of your election preparation, will also be available online here.