Looking back at television’s more than 50-year history, the “golden years” for documentaries on both the networks and the affiliates came during a 20-year period beginning in the mid-1960’s and lasting until the mid-1980’s. A review of the archives of the Peabody and duPont-Columbia awards serves as a reminder of some of the excellent documentary work that used to be offered to the American people and also starkly highlights what we are missing out on today. What follows is a random selection of the type of documentaries that once graced the television landscape.—Phil Balboni
“The Slow Guillotine,” by KNBC-TV, a documentary focusing on air pollution in the Los Angeles area (1969).
“Charlie Company,” CBS News, the famous story of an infantry company on patrol in Vietnam (1970).
“This Child is Rated X,” an NBC “White Paper” on juvenile justice and children’s rights in America (1971).
“Justice in America,” CBS News, a three-hour, four-part series on the inequities of U.S. courts and prisons (1971).
“A Seed of Hope,” by WTVJ-TV, Miami, on drug addiction among middle-class youth in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (1973).
“Chile: Experiment in Red,” by ABC News about President Salvador Allende’s impact on Chile’s economy, politics and society (1974).
“The Sins of the Fathers,” NBC News, on the plight of American-fathered children left behind in Vietnam (1974).
“The Timber Farmers,” KGW-TV, Portland, Oregon, a documentary examining the future of the Pacific Northwest timber industry (1978).
“Race Relations: Where Are We Now?” by WFAA-TV, a two-hour examination of race relations in the Dallas Fort Worth area (1978).
“Water: Arizona’s Most Precious Resource,” KOOL-TV, Phoenix, on the debate over the Central Arizona Project (1979).
“Blacks in America: With All Deliberate Speed,” a two-hour CBS Reports special (1981).
“The Billion Dollar Ghetto,” by WPLG-TV, Miami, an investigation of government projects in Dade County (1982).
“The Defense of the United States,” CBS News, a five-hour long examination of America’s nuclear defense policies (1982).
“The Gene Merchants,” “ABC News Closeup” on the impact of genetic engineering (1983).
“People Like Us,” “CBS Reports,” on the impact of federal budget cuts on the poor (1983).
“The War Within,” KRON-TV, about Vietnam veterans’ struggle to re-enter mainstream society (1984).
“The Smell of Money,” WJXT-TV, Jacksonville, Florida, on the economic and health effects of the city’s major polluters (1985).