Whether you lived through them or whether you view the period as history, settle in this week for a fascinating look at the tumultuous and confusing decade of the 1960s.

"Making Sense of the Sixties," a six-part series, airs Monday through Wednesday from 9 to 11 each night on PBS stations.

Like Ken Burns' acclaimed "The Civil War" earlier this season, this one takes up a time of revolution in the history of the nation -- almost exactly 100 years later. Like that period, there are struggles over civil rights and there is a war, but this series has nudity and self-indulgence, assassinations and anger, newsreel footage and interviews with "extraordinary ordinary Americans" who offer both recollections and assessments.

Perhaps it took a revolution of sorts to take the country from the conformist Fifties and its insistence on common values and rules to a greater awareness of individual differences and cultural diversity. And though the chaotic Sixties didn't achieve the Utopia many of its participants had wanted, the era did change the country, and it left some things forever behind.

For executive producer Ricki Green, it was trying to explain the era to her son, now 20, and daughter, nearly 17, that prompted her to make the series.

"I had a very difficult time conveying to them what it means to me and what it meant to the country," she said. "A lot of it was born out of my own inability to come to terms with my Sixties experience, to put it in a larger framework. When we got into the series, it turned out this is a very common problem. Sixties-generation parents haven't been able to talk about it partly because they haven't been able to make sense of it themselves. I thought it might be striking a chord in other people."

A woman who had grown up in the Fifties, Green joined the college demonstrations of the early Sixties and the National Urban Coalition later, then participated in the women's movement of the 1970s. She came to television through the media task force of the D.C. Women's Equity Action League, which she co-founded. A divorced mother with two small children, she commuted to Baltimore to work on a series about women being produced at Maryland Public Television.

Since 1978, when she joined as an associate producer, Green has been at WETA, now as vice president for news and public affairs. So not surprisingly, she decided to look at the decade through a television series. And she was concerned that "so much of the media treatment of the period was focusing on the music and the sex and the drugs -- it was becoming a cliche'." She decided that her series would be different.

"This wasn't just going to be a political history, but it was going to be about America in the Sixties. Not just the kids on the street, but about the experience of America -- a parent, a child, a cop, a vet, many voices. It wasn't to be just a chronological history, but as we went through, people could reflect back on it. Even though a lot of the focus is on the movements and the kids of the Sixties, they were only the actors. It's also about the reactors. It was also important to me to have a final program that looked at us in the 1990s."

Green said she told David Hoffman, the producer she hired to make and direct the series, that "we will have failed if people look at this series and say it was made by a couple of aging hippies."

Instead, she said, she hopes that "this series in some way can help us understand who we are and what we are and our values today."

Neither Green, 47, nor Hoffman, 49, are "aging hippies."

"I was sort of part of the first wave," said Green, who was graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1965 with a degree in international relations. "I was idealistic, turned on by the ideas of John Kennedy. What was happening on the streets was so much more interesting than what was happening in the classrooms. By the end of the Sixties, the kids who were a little bit younger than I was looked on the Sixties a little bit differently."

Hoffman, head of Varied Directions in Camden, Maine, is a graduate of Hofstra University and has produced more than 100 award-winning documentaries. He began trying to document the 1960s while he was living through them.

"I probably did 50 stories in 1968 involving civil rights," he said. "My own change came about in 1969 when I attended the Vietnam moratorium {demonstration} in Washington and I saw Viet Cong flags and realized my own patriotic feelings. I realized that I loved America and I hadn't fully appreciated America. That changed me and changed my films. A lot of things had gone too far -- it was a time of tremendous change. A lot of people had changed."

Hoffman did the majority of on-camera interviews -- 180 were done, 100 used in the series -- of what he called "extraordinary ordinary" people. And he concluded that "on balance, I believe the Sixties did great things. I think Sixties-generation people can feel proud. And when America changes, the world changes."

Working on the series changed him yet again, said Hoffman.

"'Making Sense of the Sixties' changed my life because I had a chance to evaluate myself and in the evaluation I realized that I'm still in rebellion against the life I was raised with -- not my family, but the whole society and my absolute certainty that I would not become what was expected of me."

But he also reflected that on-camera comments by George Reedy and Sam Brown, both of whom said they thought the American public would never stand for another war, were "very shortsighted." After the series was finished, but before its airing, Iraq invaded Kuwait and the United States became militarily embroiled in the Middle East.

"It's really ironic that both the men say it'll never happen again," he observed. "The anti-war movement of the Sixties was an anti-Vietnam War movement, not an anti-war movement. It was not against any war, it was against that war."

"Making Sense of the Sixties" begins Monday with a look at the 1950s, a time when fathers went off to work -- even if they didn't enjoy what they did -- and mothers stayed home, striving to become ideal housewives. Their children, the famous Baby Boomers, would become the rebels of the Sixties.

Hoffman emphasized that "the parents of the 1950s were the most extraordinary people ... they went through the Depression, World War II. The life experience of this generation is so different from the life experience of those who grew up in the Fifties that neither generation understood each other. And I also think that the 1960s would not have happened without the social repression of the 1950s."

Green agreed: "If you lived then, you can't help but have been affected by the values of the Fifties."

The second episode chronicles the idealism of the civil rights movement and the Kennedy years. Tuesday, the series depicts the counterculture and a look at 1968, a time of escalating war and anti-war sentiment, the assassinations of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy and riots. Wednesday includes the student killings at Kent State and Jackson State and the end of the war, plus an hour of reflection called "Legacies."

Green, currently at Stanford University as a Knight Journalism Fellow, finds students there "so much less political than they were at Berkeley in the Sixties. They had a teach-in a couple of months ago against the Persian Gulf crisis and nobody came. On one side, I see an apolitical bunch of students here: They want to study and get good grades. On the other side, a lot of the Sixties is everywhere in the curriculum. The diversity of kids on campus is remarkable -- 43 percent of Stanford's incoming freshman are minorities -- and the diversity of classes. Now even women's issues are integrated into the most mainstream classes. I took a class on technology and American culture last quarter and the professor talked about the women's role and how women were being neglected. I'm just thrilled. It has made it so much richer and interesting."

Although the two producers are listed in the credits equally, Hoffman said, "Ricki really made this happen because Ricki fought for it; it was her idea. She thought the concept of the Sixties needs to be re-examined when the generation was in the prime of their work life, and that this is not the time to wait. I think she deserves the credit for having the confidence that it should be done now.

"We made something that is still very alive," he said, "and we know we're presenting this series to an audience of very opinionated people, still trying to articulate this to their children."