This is All I Plan to Say About “Chicagoland”

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

It’s over.

Now, I’ll find something more productive to do on Thursday nights, rather than editorialize over the eight-part CNN “documentary” called “Chicagoland.”

When the first installment was aired in March, I shared these thoughts. Now that the series is over, I’m not pleased by the portrayal given to my city, and I’m in pretty good company.

chicagoland.twoReports I’ve read in the local media were not kind to the producers of this ambitious project.  And, this recent extensive piece in the Chicago Tribune offers some fascinating insight on the making of “Chicagoland,” charging that many scenes were staged.  What’s more, the report details the consulting services provided by a prominent Chicago public affairs to the production team.

But here’s what stung my sensitivities:

The Myopic Perspective. The name of the production, at least to me, inferred that “Chicagoland” would shine light on a broad range of topics and subjects, people and places — enough to provide an accurate, realistic perspective of Chicago and its environs in 2013, when the bulk of the filming took place.  After all, this tale spanned eight hours (minus commercials). Why did the producers virtually ignore the business community, the vital role played by transportation, the arts community, the suburbs for crying out loud!

Instead, we were subjected to scene-after-scene featuring Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Fenger High School Principal Elizabeth Dozier, punctuated with footage showing the aftermath of violence, followed by comments from Police Superintendent Gerry McCarthy.  And, as illustrated in the graphic above, these three people were the stars of the show.

The Gratuitous Cameos.  Bluesman Buddy Guy. Former Mayor Richard M. Daley. World-renowned chef Grant Achatz.  Conductor Riccardo Muti. These famous Chicagoans all got some face time during the series; but their time on camera really didn’t advance any story lines.

Why didn’t the producers convince a long-standing business person to share his or her perspectives? Or a leader from one of our institutions of higher learning?  We have a few good ones, you know.

The Lack of Anything New. Read the news reports.  Chicago has violence, and it’s gut wrenching, horrifying and and seemingly out of control in some neighborhoods.  It’s destroying the very fabric of what once were sound, stable communities.

So, did we need a mini-series disguised as objective film making to tell us and the rest of the world that people are routinely being shot and killed?  I say no.

One more thing: Less famous Chicagoans — people like me — also have insight on where the city’s been and can offer projections on where it’s going.   And, to their credit, the producers did feature some common folk.

But not enough.

Perhaps the next time a crew from California comes to town, they’ll talk to more of us.

 

 

 

 

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Now, Thoughts from a Real Chicago Guy on CNN’s “Chicagoland” Series

By Edward M.  Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Those who get paid to comment have had their say.  Now, it’s my turn.

The topic: The controversial CNN series “Chicagoland,” an eight-part documentary of sorts about my home town.  Although with eight installments, “documentary” probably is a misnomer.  Perhaps “real-life urban mini-series” is more accurate.

chicagoland.twoIn the days before an after the debut episode March 6, the program generated the expected flurry of commentary.  After watching “Chicagoland” last week, I shut the TV off with these four thoughts in mind.

The Politics. Unquestionably, Chicago is known for politics, and with good reason. It’s well documented that for decades our elected officials have elevated politics to a high art.   From the onset, the first installment of “Chicagoland” centered on politics as it relates to two of our biggest problems:  Violent, often gang-driven crime in some neighborhoods and a financially strapped, under-performing public school system.  These two subjects were explored in footage featuring Mayor Rham Emanuel, Police Superintendent Gerry McCarthy and a remarkable woman, Elizabeth Dozier, principal of Fenger High School.  There was high drama, and there were poignant moments last Thursday; but I seriously question why the initial episode of “Chicagoland” focused so heavily on two topics and three people.  This set a tone of helplessness and despair.

The Problems.  Problems, Chicago has them, certainly, as depicted in Episode 1.  Headline-grabbing crime and a broken education system assuredly rank way too high on the scale.  But there was no mention in the first episode of the kind of problems that don’t make for combustible television and commentary.  Underfunded pensions, soaring taxes, gridlock-at-times traffic, the continued erosion of some outlying neighborhoods, out-of-control open-air drug markets — these and other issues plague Chicago .  Perhaps these will be covered later in the series, as they should, along with what’s being done to make things right.cnn-logo

The Good Stuff.  Politics and problems aside, a lot of good is taking place in Chicago. There’s tangible, big-picture stuff like a flurry of new downtown developments and revitalization — okay, gentrification — of some neighborhoods.  A new manufacturing sector — driven by technology — has emerged.  Cultural amenities and restaurants — and some professional sports franchises — are world class.  Like the other problems the city faces, maybe the producers of “Chicagoland” will address these later.

The Name. Reportedly, the name “Chicagoland” was coined by the legendary Col. Robert McCormick, editor and publisher of the Chicago TribuneTo me, it’s a silly title.  This metropolitan region has a lot of entertaining and attractive attributes.  But let’s leave the “land” monikers to all things Disney.  Besides, I never heard anyone from Chicago refer to the city or the region as “Chicagoland,” except in TV commercials hawking carpeting.

Clearly, the 60 minutes of “Chicagoland” Episode 1 got me and a lot of other people to take notice.  I plan to watch tomorrow’s installment, and perhaps I’ll have four more thoughts.

Here are some other thoughts from the PRDude on Chicago and politics: