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Brokaw Travels to the Past with the History Channel

Main Cast: Tom Brokaw

Former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw looks to the past again for his new two-hour special 1968 with Tom Brokaw. Instead of mining tales from the Greatest Generation, he jumps ahead a few years to what he deems as a pivotal year in American history — 1968.

1968-with-tom-brokawThe program lays out a convincing case as to why this year served as a catalyst for revolution and upheaval in our nation. There was growing unrest over the Vietnam War, civil rights continued to be a flashpoint for conflict in the South and the counterculture movement was pushing the idea of free love and copious drug use. Plus, there were the assassinations of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy.

Unfortunately, it takes some time in making its point and stumbles when it tries to tie the past to the present particularly in one case when Brokaw interviews a Vietnam War veteran who lost a leg during the conflict and shows him talking with amputees from the current conflict in Iraq. Instead of being interesting, it comes off as a subtle smack to our current involvement in the Middle East. While it may be a valid criticism, I would’ve expected a little less favoritism toward that viewpoint.

I also could’ve done without the interview with Arlo Guthrie. When he starts to sing the draft-mocking song Alice’s Restaurant, and then Brokaw tries to half-heartedly join in, it’s cringeworthy, not amusing.

But while 1968 has its weaknesses, it’s not without some very powerful moments. Brokaw’s interview with Olympic gold medalist Rafer Johnson, who worked on Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign, is memorable as he talks about being near Kennedy when he was assassinated and wrestling the assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, to the ground. He even seems surprised to tell Brokaw that it wasn’t until the next morning that he realized he had taken Sirhan’s gun and actually pocketed it in his suit jacket.

Some of the historical footage is compelling as well. It’s shocking to know that King spoke to a crowd in Memphis of living a long life shortly before he was gunned down.

During the two hours, Brokaw also interviews Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, Jon Stewart, Pat Buchanan, Tommy Smothers and others. While Stewart may seem an odd choice to include, it’s engaging to see him sit with Smothers, who literally paved the way for the type of cutting-edge political comedy that Stewart does nightly with The Daily Show, with The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

If you don’t feel like committing two hours to a history lesson, check out 1968 and you’ll still get quite an interesting snapshot of a defining year in our nation’s history.

1968 with Tom Brokaw (History Channel) (DVD)


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