Tom Brokaw documentary on 1968 receives tepid review from NYT

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A theory on documentaries that strip-mine the 1960s: The less fresh insight the program has to offer, the earlier the Buffalo Springfield song “For What It’s Worth” will turn up on the soundtrack. Written by Stephen Stills, that astonishing song (“There’s something happening here/What it is ain’t exactly clear”) came to encapsulate ’60s turmoil so perfectly that resorting to it is a subconscious admission by a documentarian: “I have nothing to say that Stephen Stills didn’t say better in 2 minutes 41 seconds.”

The song is heard about two minutes into the two-hour “1968 With Tom Brokaw,” tomorrow night on the History Channel. Its instantly recognizable two-note opening rings like an alarm bell for the viewer: “Warning: Regurgitation of a lot of stuff you already know ahead.”

It didn’t have to be that way. Mr. Brokaw has an eclectic array of voices in his program: Arlo Guthrie, Tommy Smothers, Pat Buchanan, James Taylor, Rafer Johnson, Dorothy Rabinowitz. And early on it seems as if he might be breaking the mold in refreshing fashion as he mixes familiar 1968 film clips with personal stories, his own and others’.

But the program soon lapses into a standard timeline format, which confronts Mr. Brokaw with the same dilemma faced by anyone who visits this decade: Do I make my program for people who were there, or for people who weren’t?

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