Ten years after Barbara Walters anchored an excellent NBC News special called "Children of Divorce," WRC-TV, the NBC-owned station in Washington, has prepared its own little documentary on the subject, "Children and Divorce." It airs at 9 tonight on Channel 4, preempting "Cheers" this week only.
Impressionistic rather than comprehensive, the half-hour special lets children affected by divorce talk candidly about how the experience affects them.
"I was too sad to talk," one little boy recalls of the day he heard the news. A little girl says, "I think about my daddy so much, I don't have time to do cartwheels and learn how to skate and stuff."
The participants include children of John M. Fedders, the former Securities and Exchange Commission official who resigned in February 1985, after public disclosures that he had repeatedly beaten his wife during their 18-year marriage. It is surprising that producer Joelle Norwood was able to get these youngsters to talk on-camera, but they are seen very briefly.
Indeed, everyone is seen very briefly. The program is essentially a collection of quick sound bites; it is sound-bitten television. Each interviewee says about a sentence, and then disappears via an electronic page-turning effect to be replaced by someone else. Host Jim Vance, the popular WRC anchor, doesn't get air time to really mix it up with the kids. You don't know from the look of the show if he did most of the interviews or just strolled in late for stand ups and voice-overs.
Norwood did a good job of organizing and packaging the material, however, and the program is certainly absorbing, if finally a little frustrating.
The status of the local documentary in Washington television is very low. The programs are few and often seem designed merely to earn public relations points and as potential submissions to awards juries. Programs such as "Children and Divorce" are to be encouraged, but no amount of encouragement seems likely to distract the focus of local news operations away from the profitable daily newscasts and over to something a trifle more ambitious.