C.R. Douglas and KCTS reach for the intelligent viewer

A new program debuts tonight with the unlikely goal of pairing TV and the Socratic method to promote discussion of public issues. Without the public.

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C.R. Douglas: cerebral peppiness.

A new program debuts tonight with the unlikely goal of pairing TV and the Socratic method to promote discussion of public issues. Without the public.

In an age of Facebook-liking, instant messaging, and promiscuous hashtagging, a certain democratization of opinion pervades just about every issue nowadays. Never before has it mattered so little what expertise or experience you might have when it comes to weighing in on matters of trivial or global importance.  Geraldo, tell me more about the deleterious effects of hoodies. Mr. Trump, please verify the authenticity of this birth certificate and these genitalia.  Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea, what really happened between Ashton and Demi? Almost exclusively, it seems, it’s not what you know, it’s what you think.

So that’s why it’s refreshing to see Seattle’s little old public TV station KCTS 9 going decidedly old-school with a new discussion program called Public Matters with C.R. Douglas. The quarterly, one-hour show premieres on that dusty cabinet over there in the corner on tonight (April 17) at 9:00 p.m.  It’s also already available to watch online, too.

C.R. Douglas, former long-time host of multiple programs on the Seattle Channel, last year made the jump to commercial TV and became a political analyst for KCPQ Channel 13, where he appears each weekday at 4:20 p.m. and 5:20 p.m. on KCPQ’s afternoon newscasts (his reports are repeated during the 9 and 10 p.m. newscasts, too). When Douglas leapt to KCPQ, it was also announced that he’d be occasionally hosting public affairs programming for KCTS as well.

The premiere episode of Public Matters is old-school and refreshing in that Douglas and his production team have chosen to take on a timely, complex and uber-local topic: same-sex marriage, which was recently legalized by the state legislature and which is likely to be on the ballot as a referendum this fall. They’ve also recruited panelists who know the topic and who have spent years on the front lines or studying the issue, including The The Stranger's Dan Savage, Sen. Ed Murray, Joseph Backholm of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, and University of Washington Sociology Professor Pepper Schwartz.

Conspicuously absent from Public Matters is, surprisingly (yet thankfully) the public. There’s no studio audience (the show was taped at KCTS in late March in a Charlie Rose-esque island of light surrounded by darkness), no instant polling, no phone-ins, and no goofy questions or comments from Floyd R. Turbo impersonators. I’ve long been a fan of live local broadcasting, but this thinky program does not suffer from being taped in advance.

In a phone interview a few days before the broadcast premiere, Douglas cited Fred Friendly and the old PBS series Ethics in America as inspiration for Public Matters. The KCTS website says that the new show “incorporates the sophisticated but entertaining Socratic method” using “hypothetical situations and rhetorical inquiry to elicit well-reasoned responses.”

“Socratic method” and “well-reasoned responses” ontelevision? What year is this? I thought that maybe we were talking about Paper Chase re-runs, but Douglas and his panelists pull off Socratic and well-reasoned with aplomb on Public Matters.

I asked Douglas if watching Public Matters will change anyone’s mind about same-sex marriage. He says it might. “This program gives you a good hour of discussion from both sides of the issue which should give you a much better set of data” to make a decision, Douglas said.

Douglas is emphatic about the value of Public Matters for anyone who’s not yet made up his or her mind, as well as for those who are already dug-in. “If you’re undecided, this is the kind of discussion you need to view,” he said. “There’s nothing more you’d need to look at or read if you want to know what’s the right vote on same-sex marriage, [while] hardcore people on either side might be entertained by hearing the arguments they hold dear expressed and expressed well.”

Same-sex marriage is the perfect topic for the premiere of an ambitious show like Public Matters, and the challenge will be to come up with similarly engaging material and panelists every quarter. Douglas says that the next episode will likely tackle legalization of marijuana.

Public Matters may sound like 400-level television, but it ought to be required viewing for all registered voters in the Evergreen State, matriculated or not.


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