Winner 2002

American Experience: Monkey Trial

A Nebraska ETV Network Production for American Experience, a production of WGBH/Boston

Monkey Trial follows one of the most famous legal battles of the 20th century, the trial of John Scopes for violating a Tennessee law forbidding the teaching of evolution in public schools. But the account presented here sheds new light on this well-known event, rewriting popular history and biography in the process. The trial was the first to be widely covered by mass media (radio), and the Scopes Trial might actually be termed a media circus: 150 reporters were also in attendance at the eight-day event. In Monkey Trial we learn that everyone wanted their time in the media spotlight. The fledgling American Civil Liberties Union wanted to test the law as a free speech issue and advertised widely, seeking a potential defendant. The people of Dayton, Tennessee, seeing the possibility of a trial as a chance to place their little town on the map, took up the ACLU offer and persuaded Scopes to be charged with the violation. Religious fundamentalists hoped to defend the Bible and scientists had an equal passion in publicizing Darwin’s theory of evolution. The crowds gathered in the courtroom came to witness a clash between two of American’s greatest orators, Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan, presented here in terms of both their personal battles and their cultural and social significance. In Monkey Trial, Writer, Director, and Producer Christine Lesiak and Co-Producer and Director, Anne Mumgaard weave together interviews with leading historians and Dayton residents to capture the passions unleashed during the summer of 1925. Monkey Trial is narrated by Linda Hunt, executive produced by Margaret Drain with Series Executive Producer, Mark Samels and Series Coordinating Producer, Susan Mottau. For presenting a thoroughly new perspective on one of the most significant cultural moments in the American 20th century, a Peabody Award goes to American Experience: Monkey Trial.