In the late summer of 1999, ABC News broadcast an eight-part mini-series of news oriented documentaries hosted by Ted Koppel and featuring the unique journalistic approach of Robert Krulwich. Beginning the week of July 29th and broadcasting weekly until September 16th, this hour long program examined where humanity has been and where it is going. Krulwich argued successfully that there are fundamental changes which go on right under our noses, but that we're usually too busy to notice. We take so much for granted, as human beings. Krulwich utilized this series to show people how far we've come and where we might be going as a society and a species.

The series featured music written by They Might Be Giants and performances by video artists Josh and Adam implicitly for the program. Also featured in the series were interviews or performances by The Emerson String Quartet, Jane Curtin, Buck Henry, Tim Burton, Ray Kurzweil, archive footage of Buster Keaton, and many other bright minds. The shows appeared on the ABC summer Thursday schedule in the last hour of prime time.

  1. Wired for Speed: focused on the tempo of human life, and why speed appears to be so attractive to the human race. The goal of technology seems to be geared towards making us go faster than we went before. Previous generations used rotary phones bolted to walls not too long ago and today we can't imagine being without our touch tone cellphones. Krulwich also investigated how the human mind utilizes multitasking to go even faster. Is there a point of no return? Will we ever learn to slow down?
  2. Man and Machine: examined the devices Man builds in order to improve our lives, and questions the ramifications. Krulwich observed uses of machines to replace human body parts, visited the artistry of sculptures inspired by robotics, computerized dancing techniques, and revealed how our own creations can be friend, foe, and perhaps surpass our own abilities.
  3. What is Family: Krulwich shows us the lives of a doctor and nurse married couple who have adopted 14 children from many parts of the world. By observing a family built through both traditional and nontraditional means, Krulwich explores the definition of family and its many modern permutations.
  4. Why Not Clone a Human?: Considering the debate still ongoing as of this writing, back in 1999 Krulwich was years ahead of his time. He interviews specialists and shares the stage with artists to discover the fears and hopes that cloning inspires in all of us. Is it really playing God or is it just a natural evolution in the journey to be more human?
  5. The Sixth Extinction: From the dawn of recorded history to modern man's attempt to chronicle everything, Krulwich draws upon everything from palentology to sociology and realizes that extinction is both a grave concern for the ecology of this planet and a natural inevitability. With thousands of species becoming extinct every year, many of them due to deliberate or inadvertent actions of human beings, are we immune to the effects of extinction or are we next on Mother Nature's chopping block? Historical geologists surmise that there have been five massive extinctions before man arrived on the scene. Is the sixth going to take us out? With meteors and other unknowns out there, can we do anything to prevent it?
  6. Looking for Life: Scientists generally agree that life on other planets is a possibility, some presume even a probability, but what manner or form would it take and how might it affect us? The movies probably got it wrong. It's more likely that there is life in our own solar system, but that it's the size of a microbe, and how do you ask a microbe to take you to its leader?
  7. Hope - A Case Study: What matters more? Mind or heart? Is one really valuable without the other? Krulwich visits with a very intelligent, well-schooled gentleman who faces a family tragedy in the form of his mentally challenged daughter. In his final analysis we see that love does conquer all, but it's perhaps a miracle that just is: we may never understand why.
  8. Beyond Atoms: There was a time when scientists believed they found the smallest possible particles of matter. Atoms. Today, we know that there are subatomic particles and quarks and cosmic strings and things that are even smaller. Krulwich uses orchestral strings to illustrate modern String Theory, and also puts quantum mechanics, general relativity, particle physics and pretty much everything under the sun into perspective.
This series was ground breaking and particularly memorable among the pablum that passes for television because it dared to venture into topics that were for some taboo in prime time. Krulwich and Koppel brought issues and topics normally seen as boring or even arrogantly geeky into the homes of the Average Joe with a sensibility and understanding unparalleled. They knew their audience. They knew what they wanted to say. Krulwich and Koppel took the impossible and incomprehensible and made it a breeze. Most news documentaries do not stand the test of time, and become interesting only from an historical or nostalgic perspective. I think years from now this series will still stick in the minds of those exposed to it, as a slice of Mankind's journey. A signpost on the road to its destiny.

And it's just a lot of fun.

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