In this day and age, it almost seems every bit of news is unprecedented or groundbreaking. But all developments stem from events that happened in the past.
That's the crux of the new PBS news series "Retro Report," debuting Monday, October 7 and Tuesday, October 8 featuring Atlantan Masud Olufani and former Atlantan Celeste Headlee as co hosts.
The series, with cooperation from Georgia Public Broadcasting, takes important topics of today and explores how we got to that point. "People who forget history, Headlee said, " are doomed to repeat it." (She was paraphrasing a famous quote by writer and philosopher George Santayana.)
For instance, “Retro Report” explores how current issues regarding pharmaceutical regulation stem from an early 1960s case regarding thalidomide, a sedative originally marketed as safe but proved to cause massive deformities among infants. It was banned in 1962. The company that created thalidomide took 50 years to apologize. (Thalidomide ultimately was used for cancer treatment and other diseases.)
Headlee, who hosted “On Second Thought” for GPB’s 88.5/WRAS-FM in Atlanta from 2014 to 2018, said the show is carefully fact checked. “Every adjective is checked to make sure it’s accurate for that situation,” she said.
The researchers, she said, painstakingly found as much original archival video and interviewed bonafide experts in that field or first-hand witnesses if possible. For instance, behaviorist B.F. Skinner died in 1990 so they interviewed his daughter.
“We didn’t talk to pundits” she said. “Our executive producer likes to say that journalism is the first draft of history. ‘Retro Report’ is more like the second draft.”
One of Headlee's favorite pieces was about the garbage barge story from 30-plus years ago that led to the modern recycling movement. "It's really fascinating," she said. "People have either forgotten about it or never knew about it," she said. "Now that we're caught up in such a fast-paced world of Twitter and diet of social media, we forget a lot."
Another notable one is a piece about a Smith-Barney class-action sexual harassment case in the 1990s that paved the way in part to today’s #MeToo movement. But it also paved the way for all those non-disclosure agreements that allowed the Bill Cosby/Roger Ailes/Harvey Weinstein type cases to flourish underground and open the door to repeated alleged abuse. “Justice,” Headlee said, “can be very incremental.”
Olufani, a local Atlanta artist and actor, was able to nab his first big hosting gig. He hopes the look of the show will draw a younger audience. "It's slickly produced," he said. "There are no desks. We stand up. It's a very cool set."
And for fun, they bring in satirist Andy Borowitz to crack wise at the end of each episode. In Tuesday's episode, he does gentle mocking of Geraldo Rivera, who in 1986 cracked open (maybe) Al Capone's vault live on TV to find... nothing. "He replaced actual news with the possibility of news," Borowitz said.
“Retro Report,” 9 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays, GPB and Sundays at 9 p.m. on PBA
About the Author
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A native New Yorker, he has covered education at The Virginian-Pilot, small business for The Wall Street Journal and a host of beats at the AJC over 20-plus years.