"The Brokaw Report: Families in Crisis" on NBC tonight at 8 (WMAR-Channel 2) lays out an all-too-familiar and depressing picture of today's American family, the "walking wounded," anchor Tom Brokaw calls them:
* A Missouri family in which both parents work, and their latchkey children take on not only household chores, but the emotional burdens of wondering whether this month the money will run out.
* A Camden, N.J., single mother, with four children fathered by three different men, who at 23 is barely out of childhood herself.
* Two North Carolina children of divorce, who are marrying with promises to themselves they won't repeat the pattern, in the face of statistics suggesting there's a 1-in-2 chance they will.
After NBC News' pop documentaries of the past few years, "The Brokaw Report" is a welcome serious attempt to lay out issues of the day without ratings gimmicks.
The stories are compelling, the subjects articulate, the statistics frightening.
And if the images don't break new ground, they nonetheless bear repeating, over and over and over again.
Indeed, Mr. Brokaw said, the goal of "The Brokaw Report," of which there will be five more by the end of the year, is to help "set the agenda" for the presidential election year.
"The family is the most fundamental issue in our lives today and in society," Mr. Brokaw said. "People know something has changed radically. We have to figure out how to deal with the new shape of the family."
The program is better at laying out the issues -- the 66 percent of black children born out of wedlock, the 50 percent of divorced men delinquent on child support, the 45 percent of single-mother families living in poverty -- than at advocating solutions. There are a couple of brief profiles of programs that are working to break the patterns and a discussion at the end among advocates of a pro-family public policy.
There is no attempt to link the show to specific candidates' platforms. Instead, Mr. Brokaw hopes the programs will be a "study guide for American voters on some of the issues that are not getting addressed as they should."