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Decades to air 51 hours of inaugural speeches

John F. Kennedy spoke some now very famous

John F. Kennedy spoke some now very famous words at his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1961. Credit: AP

Presidential history is about to repeat itself.

As a tie-in to the inauguration of Donald Trump on Jan. 20, Decades, the digital channel devoted to connecting historical events and pop culture, will devote 51 hours to rebroadcasts of presidential inaugurations of the past, starting at 7 a.m. on Jan. 19. “We have die-hard core viewers who are history buffs,” says Neal Sabin, vice chairman of Wiegel Broadcasting, which developed the channel with CBS. “It may be a little too serious for some of our entertainment seekers, but we’re hoping it will also bring the network some more attention.”

Decades (Optimum Channel 112, digital Channel 2.2) will focus on the inauguration speeches of presidents from John F. Kennedy through Barack Obama (Gerald Ford is the only one not represented), as well as an introductory half-hour featuring clips from the addresses of Harry S. Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. The eight-hour cycle of speeches will be repeated numerous times over the two-day period. “Some speeches are longer than others, but we’re not doing edits. Whatever they said will be presented in its entirety,” Sabin says. “There will be commercials, but we’re not interrupting the speeches for them.”

Though the presidential addresses are the stars, comments from veteran journalist Bill Kurtis and additional footage, such as clips from Kennedy’s inaugural ball, will round out the lineup.

Putting together the inaugura-thon took producer Alissa Shapiro about five weeks, Sabin says, a relatively modest time for such an endeavor. “Getting the footage wasn’t a problem,” he says. “We have a relationship with CBS and CBS News Archive. Some of the speeches were in public domain, but much of the material comes from CBS itself.”

Sabin also hopes the programming will serve as both a series of time capsules and a chance for viewers to compare and contrast the different administrations. “They’re a diverse group from Reagan to Clinton to Obama,” Sabin says. “It’s a chance to juxtapose those presidents and the way they present themselves with what’s happening now.”

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