"March 4, 1933," which airs tonight at 9:30 on Channel 26, is a rebroadcast of a 1963 special on the New Deal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The title date is that of FDR's inauguration, 50 years ago.
The program was a panel discussion among Henry A. Wallace, vice president during FDR's third term and secretary of agriculture and commerce; James A. Farley, postmaster general in the first cabinet; James Roosevelt, the president's eldest son; Thomas G. Corcoran, a member of Roosevelt's "brain trust" and later a well known Washington lawyer, and Ernest K. Lindley, a Roosevelt biographer. The narrator was Richard D. Heffner, who has contributed a brief introduction written this year.
What this program makes clear is certainly not 1933--the reminiscences of Henry Wallace et al. are often opaque now, inevitably filled with references to a supporting cast of government players largely forgotten. As for 1963--well, this could not have been a riveting panel discussion even then. There is no attempt to compare Roosevelt with John F. Kennedy, no spark of debate, no sense of revelation. Most of Roosevelt's rousing inaugural address ("The only thing we have to fear is fear itself") is reproduced, but there is little specific analysis of it.
What "March 4, 1933" does reveal is how much we have come to expect from television. We have come to expect explanation, balance and a point of view, and a high standard of visual quality. None is present in this 90-minute rebroadcast.
Those who do not know history may be condemned to repeat it. But that does not mean that we are condemned to view repeats of the history of television--not when they are essentially unenlightening.