Picks and Pans Review: Debating Our Destiny

UPDATED 09/25/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/25/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT

PBS (Sun., Sept. 24, 9 p.m. ET)

Show of the week

Despite the lofty title, there's not a lot of soaring rhetoric in this valuable two-hour special on the history of televised presidential and vice presidential debates. It's mostly about gamesmanship—anticipating jabs and capitalizing on gaffes. Host Jim Lehrer had conversations with 11 former candidates and elicited strikingly candid comments from almost all of them. (Add a grain of salt when Ronald Reagan, in a 10-year-old interview, suggests that his best lines in 1980 and '84 were spontaneous.) Walter Mondale recalls the good nights ('76 vs. Bob Dole) and the bad (his second Reagan encounter in '84) with grace and good humor. But ex-President George Bush speaks a truth for all political seasons: The great debates are more showbiz than substance.

Bottom Line: Election-year winner

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