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'Where Were You: The Day JFK Died' review: Excellent overview

President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline

President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline Kennedy are greeted by an enthusiastic crowd upon their arrival at Dallas Love Field, on November 22, 1963. Only a few hours later the president was assassinated while riding in an open-top limousine through the city. Credit: AP, 1963

THE SHOW "Where Were You: The Day JFK Died"

WHEN | WHERE Friday night at 9 on NBC/4

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Nine months of reporting by Tom Brokaw and a diligent film archive-mining operation by NBC News has yielded this exhaustive overview of Nov. 22, 1963, complete with a "What if JFK had lived?" addendum that comprises the last half-hour. Many celebrities and politicians are interviewed as well. Steven Spielberg was in high school, in Phoenix, and he would rush home to see his mother sobbing in the kitchen. Bill Clinton was in algebra class. He remembered "being totally bereft." Andrew Young, the civil rights activist who offers one of the few critical appraisals of JFK here, easily has the most wrenching memory: "When we heard the news, immediately everyone stopped and got on their knees."

MY SAY "Where were you?"

Anyone over the age of 55 knows exactly where this question is heading. When asked, they lapse into instant reminiscence, summoning a forgotten place and time. It's also part of a remarkable communal moment for many millions of Americans, matched in living memory by only two other dates, Dec. 7, 1941, and Sept. 11, 2001.

That's one special contribution of "The Day JFK Died," except that it doesn't go far enough. Only recollections of prominent Democrats are solicited, leaving one to wonder what prominent Republicans were thinking or feeling that day. Because they have memories too, this is an oversight, but not a fatal one.

Brokaw and "The Day JFK Died" also offer one of the more comprehensive wraps of Nov. 22 on television this week. There's a no-stone-left-unturned quality to the heart of this broadcast, at least as far as interviews are concerned. Not only did Brokaw talk to the shoe store proprietor (Johnny Calvin Brewer) who saw Lee Harvey Oswald enter the Texas Theatre on West Jefferson Boulevard, but he talks to the police officer who collared him and who narrowly escaped with his own life.

Then there's this intriguing assertion: Oleg Danilovich Kalugin, the KGB's former head of U.S. operations, tells Brokaw that Marina Oswald had been recruited by the agency but "did not perform her mission."

BOTTOM LINE The "Where were you?" memories here belong mostly to Democrats -- but the overview of the tragic day is excellent.


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