THE SHOW "The Presidents' Gatekeepers"
WHEN | WHERE Wednesday and Thursday at 9 p.m. on Discovery
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Spanning nine administrations, this is the story of the White House chief of staff. All living former ones going back to LBJ are interviewed, each offering his own inside account of the job. Much ground is covered, from relations with first ladies (second part) to their roles in crises. Produced by veteran (and former) "60 Minutes" producer Chris Whipple and Gedeon and Jules Naudet ("9/11").
MY SAY Discovery Channel's remarkable two-nighter is something to behold, even something more to absorb. Much of what's here is fascinating, insider-y, tedious, windy, funny, insightful and revealing -- and to summarize in a brief review can't quite capture the flavor or scope of this Oval Office-palooza. But for scholars or armchair students, "Gatekeepers" is required viewing or, at minimum, a fun diversion.
Best are the anecdotes, and in that regard, the Republicans win, with gems from Ken Duberstein (Reagan), Joshua Bolten (George W. Bush) and especially James Baker (George H.W. Bush, Reagan), who emerges as the star here -- or at least wise elder, while the program does tag him as the most effective former chief of staff.
But while watching, you may also have a nagging suspicion that some facts have been gilded or withheld -- these men are masters at information manipulation, after all. That could have been remedied by the occasional third-party appraisal, in the form of an independent scholar or journalist, if only to give balance, context or counter-spin. Instead, all these presidents' men largely insist, unchallenged, that there is very little their former bosses did that was not in the best interests of the nation or world. Viewers, and history, might have other ideas. Best to wait (and you never have to wait long) for the story that reveals character with crystal-clear and sometimes chilling clarity.
BOTTOM LINE Mostly fascinating tales from all the presidents' men that occasionally need (sometimes badly) journalistic balance and perspective.