"CBS Reports: The Baby Makers" would be chilling enough as science fiction. As science fact, an update on the state of the art of genetic engineering, it gives one considerably more than pause.
But the report, at 8 on Channel 9 tonight, has not itself been engineered with a sure enough hand -- or not enough sure hands. Jay L. McMullen served as host, producer, director and writer, and while in television it's usually the committees who do the botching, this may be a rare case of too few cooks.
McMullen does not bring adequate authority to his on-screen role, and the filmed hour suffers from a scholastic organization. There are too many title cards dividing it into sections and there is too little discussion of the implications of the material.
Still, much of the information is fascinating and disturbing. Already private enterprise is gearing for a new kind of baby boom, and what was once known as the "miracle" of birth now goes by such romantic terms as sperm manipulation, in vitro fertilization, and creation to specification, in which a baby is ordered up like a pizza.
McMullen briefly revisits the world's first test-tube baby and then tries to track down what he inelegantly calls "the world's first frozen baby," because it was born of a frozen embryo inserted in a womb. The doctors who masterminded this caper, as part of their work on cures for infertility, are located in, of all the insanely overpopulated places, India.
Things get still more insane and by the end of the hour we are trapped between an Orwellian scientist calmly referring to babies of the future, the progeny of laboratories, as "good quality work" designed to be cost-effective, and a frightening right-to-lifer who has decided all experimentation in this area is "immoral" and should be crushed by the government.
God help us.
As of this broadcast, "CBS Reports" once more opens and closes with a stately and commanding segment from Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring," as it previously did for years. CBS News president William Leonard, once a "Reports" correspondent and the successor to Richard Salant, said recently, "Dick hated that music and it means a great deal to me so I thought, why the hell shouldn't I put it back?"
Unfortunately, the music is more of a reminder of the past excellence of this series than the broadcast itself, but the hour is still bountiful with food for thought.