Once you get past the Christmas decorations and the tight close-ups of a telephone keyboard, a 35-minute look at County Executive CharlesI. Ecker and the County Council now being aired on the county government's cable channel is actually entertaining.
Viewers might overlook it, however, because watching local elected officials is only slightly more interesting than looking at a test pattern.
Most of what you get on the government's Cable 15 is employees taking pictures of their bosses. Understandably, the programs have verylittle bite.
Given those constraints, Pia Jordan's 35-minute lookat "The Decision Makers" is somewhat remarkable. It is safe, yet still manages to give a new perspective on Ecker and the five council members.
When acting in their government roles, the six elected officials appear stiff and one-dimensional -- cardboard cutouts with predictable opinions and voting patterns.
Jordan gives the cutouts complexity. She approaches them as "just folks" having a full life apartfrom politics. For most, politics is revealed as a sideline -- a sometimes surprising afterthought.
Jordan makes the program fun by taking a scrapbook approach -- snapshots from each person's past. The program gets dull when the six pontificate about their roles in government. In between is some pretty interesting stuff.
Jordan begins by using black-and-white still photographs of Ecker from his infancy to the present. We see him as a fun-loving 17-year-old sailor at the end of World War II and as a crew-cut teacher and coach years later in Carroll County. We see him on his wedding day, and we see him playing with his grandchildren.
The jarring thing about the Ecker segment is that the "recent" footage was shot in December. A scene in his poinsettia-decorated office shows him talking to an aide wearing a Santa Claus dress -- red with white trim. A scene at home shows Ecker and his wife trimming a Christmas tree.
Throughout each of the approximately five-minute biographies, Jordan pieces together previously aired clips of the politicians. She is at her best when she uses old snapshots to go with her voice-over narrations.
We see the segregated elementary school that council chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, attended when growing up in Sunderland in Calvert County. We see the watercolor art of Shane Pendergrass, D-1st.
We see Charles C. Feaga,R-5th, tossing hay to his Black Angus cattle, and we peer through the windows in the Baltimore Port Authority office of Paul R. Farragut,D-4th, at his magnificent view of a fog-shrouded Inner Harbor. We also see Darrell Drown, R-2nd, playing basketball in the backyard with his sons, holding the littlest one up so he can dunk an undersized basketball.
Jordan gets off one of her best lines when she introduces Gray as a man who "practices what he teaches" in his political science classrooms at Morgan State University.
Gray's is the most political of the mini-biographies, complete with snapshots of him with Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder and former Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes. "I'm trained to review legislation; I'm trained to understand politics, to understand policy," Gray tells us.
The Pendergrass segment is the most personal. After showing us pictures of her growing up in Chicago and as a high school cheerleader, Jordan zooms in on what appears to be a 1970s engagement photograph.
In the voice over, Pendergrass talks, her voice almost breaking into tears, about her husband's proposal of marriage and their subsequent travels around the world because of his work.
One of the secrets Jordan elicits from Feaga is that in 1951 he wanted to become a career soldier. He couldn't because his father died that year and Feaga had to help his widowed mother look after the farm -- something he has done for the last 40 years.
Jordan's success in revealing something new about each of the six officials is not bad for any show. For government work, it's exceptional.
'THE DECISION MAKERS'
The program will air on Cable 15 today at 3:30 and 9:30 p.m. It will be shown again at 9:30 p.m. April 5; at 3 and 9:30 p.m. April 6 and 7; at 8:30 p.m. April 26 and 27; and at 2:30 and 8:30 p.m. April 28.