Winner 1998

The American Experience: America 1900

The American Experience, David Grubin Productions, WGBH Educational Foundation, Boston, Massachusetts

What was it like a hundred years ago when America last faced a new century? That is the subject of this fascinating and revealing three-hour special presentation by the distinguished American Experience series. Producer David Grubin, along with co-writer Judy Crichton and the simply perfect narration of David McCullough, take us back to a time when the future was anticipated with buoyant optimism, when faith in technology as a solution for social ills was unquestioned, and the abiding belief was that the American experiment in democracy would bring joyous, ever-lasting peace to the whole world. As we now know all too well, things did not exactly proceed according to plan. Yet what is striking in this well-told and beautifully photographed tale is how much our concerns then remain our concerns now, especially the fact that growing prosperity at home can be threatened by uncertainty and political unrest abroad. Then, as now, a certain unsettling anxiety marked the populace, generations before anyone had heard the term “Y2K.” As the millennium approaches, television retrospectives on the 20th century are proliferating. This outstanding work, which is as much about the close as it is about the beginning of our century, has set a very high standard for others to emulate. It also happens to be great television, and therefore is wholly deserving of a Peabody Award.