Watch “The Contenders: 16 for ’16.” I mean it.

Last night, I was flipping through my television channels, looking for something worthwhile that wasn’t the same old crime procedural.

And once I hit WMHT, our beloved PBS affiliate, I saw a preview for a limited series called “The Contenders: 16 for ’16.”

And boy did I get hooked.

“The Contenders: 16 for ’16” is a profile and overview of sixteen different Presidential campaigns, featuring various political candidates – how they rose through the ranks to generate electoral votes, how they earned their parties’ nominations, and how eventually they failed to capture the Oval Office.

With this show, you see how we arrived at the 2016 political campaign – in that we wouldn’t have an outsider candidate like Donald Trump without previous outsiders like Ross Perot and John Anderson and Ralph Nader running for office.  We wouldn’t have Hillary Clinton, a woman running for the highest office in the land, without the electoral campaigns of Shirley Chisolm and Geraldine Ferraro and Elizabeth Dole.   And that makes a show like “The Contenders: 16 for ’16” so fascinating in and of itself.

The episode I saw last night, “The Technocrats,” featured profiles of two candidates who built their careers on public service and detail – 2012 Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and 1988 Democratic Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.  Two Massachusetts governors, two political figures who created jobs and balanced budgets and revitalized the Bay State…

And who both failed to capture the White House, for one reason or another.

For Romney, “The Contenders: 16 for ’16” brings up his association with Bain Capital, the company that purchased businesses and laid off workers, and his off-the-cuff comments about the 47% of the population.  For Dukakis, the program talks about how he was so focused on running Massachusetts while still campaigning for President, and how he was the victim of some of the most vicious negative campaign ads ever produced.  And then there was Dukakis riding around in an M1 tank.

During the show, both candidates are interviewed about their campaigns, where they think things worked and where they think the mistakes were made.  And in this, they are quite candid and reflective..

Personally, I found the show quite fascinating and intriguing.  We don’t often get to see the behind-the-scenes machinations of the political machine, we only hear about the rumors of such goings-on.  We see the strategizing, we understand the conflicts, we relive the “oh crap” moments where a campaign went from a sure thing to a concession speech in nothing flat.

“The Contenders: 16 for ’16” is an eight-part series, and the first three episodes are available on pbs.org for streaming.  The first two episodes feature “The Straight Talkers,” featuring the campaigns of Shirley Chisolm and John McCain; as well as “The Flamethrowers,” with the colorful rhetoric of Howard Dean and Pat Buchanan, and both episodes are on the streaming website.  Next week’s episode features Gary Hart and Jesse Jackson, and promises to be quite a compelling overview.

Trust me.  After sitting through the smokescreens of last Monday’s Presidential debate, a show like “The Contenders: 16 for ’16” is a breath of fresh, clean breeze.

“The Contenders: 16 for ’16” airs on Tuesday nights at 8:00 p.m. on WMHT.

 

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