'Ms. Smith': more hype than highlights


April 27, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

"Ms. Smith Goes to Washington" is feel-good TV reporting. It makes you feel real good while you're watching it. But after it's over, you realize that you weren't given one solid fact or conclusion to base those feelings on. It's all in the editing.

"Ms. Smith," which airs at 10 tonight on the Lifetime cable channel, is being billed as a "documentary highlighting the first 100 days of the newly elected women of Capitol Hill." Linda Ellerbee, who produced the report and serves as on-air correspondent, also sells the show that way at the start.

The promised scope of "Ms. Smith" is the first bit of hype. There are 28 new women in Congress: 24 new members of the House of Representatives and four new members of the Senate. Only four of them are highlighted in the report. Furthermore, of those four, only two are really featured. And of those two, only one is profiled at any length.

And then there's the matter of the one new member Ellerbee chose to profile: Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, a former TV reporter elected to the House from a district in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Perhaps it was a matter of access. It appears that Congresswoman Margolies-Mezvinsky made herself too accessible to resist, right down to providing home video of herself on Inauguration Day that was shot by a family member.

After the first 10 minutes or so, "Ms. Smith" becomes a virtual campaign commercial for Ms. Margolies-Mezvinsky. She's all over the rest of the report, and there is not one shot in which the former newscaster does not seem to be aware of the camera and playing to it. The segment that portrays the freshman Democrat as running non-stop from one meeting to another, 12 hours a day, without time even to eat lunch is the stuff of image consultants' dreams, not TV journalism.

Finally, there's the matter of the artificial 100 days, which mighthave been of value in measuring a presidency in the 1930s but is meaningless in terms of new members of Congress in 1993. The best Ellerbee can tell viewers at the end of the hour is that "it's going to be interesting" to see how these women do in the future.

The arrival of these women in Congress is more than interesting. Culturally, it's an enormous story. Unfortunately, Ellerbee and Lifetime missed that one. Instead, what they mainly give us is a campaign ad for a congresswoman from Pennsylvania.

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