There's at least one great notion behind Jesse Jackson's new talk show, "The Jesse Jackson Show," which airs at midnight Sundays on WMAR-TV (Channel 2).
But great is not the first word that comes to mind in connection with the first episode of the program seen in Baltimore and Washington Sunday. (The program has been on the air elsewhere for several weeks, but was delayed here and in Washington until after the Nov. 6 election, when Jackson won D.C.'s "shadow" Senate seat to campaign for district statehood.)
A discussion about the First Amendment and freedom of speech was not especially informed and it became an emotional shouting match at times. "Jesse Jackson," the talk show, needed more leadership from Jesse Jackson, the host.
The great idea behind the program is to open the conversation of democracy on mainstream television to new voices. Too often the only kinds of people identified as "experts" on television are white men.
Jackson's panel Sunday included: actress Colleen Dewhurst, president of Actor's Equity; the Rev. Lou Sheldon, from the conservative Traditional Values Coalition; attorney Norma Ramos, of Women Against Pornography; and Edward Lawson, who was identified as "The Walkman, an African-American who was arrested for walking through Beverly Hills," according to Jackson.
It was a refreshingly diverse group. But, unfortunately, one that did more empty shouting at each other and members of the audience than engaging in real discourse. And Jackson did not take control. At one point he said, "We're going to a commercial. And when we come back, we are going to have a civilized discussion about the First Amendment." It was wishful thinking.
In the show's defense, democracy is not a tidy process. The dialog of democracy is sometimes raucous. The experiment Jackson and his producers are trying is an important one and "Jesse Jackson" deserves some time to find its footing.