A glance at this year’s writing noms for nonfiction programming suggests the category might be among the TV Acad’s broadest. What, after all, links David de Vries’ script for History’s “Life After People,” a look at our planet’s future following the demise of humans, to “Escape,” an episode of Showtime’s “This American Life,” written by show creator Ira Glass, in which Mike, a severely crippled man, hopes to gain independence from his devoted, if sometimes smothering, mother?
And what connects “Caylee,” a heartbreaking episode of A&E’s “Intervention” by Jeff Grogan that charts the downward spiral of a once-talented violinist enabled into drug addiction by her ineffectual family to either of the two PBS candidates: Mark Zwonitzer’s uplifting “Walt Whitman” on “American Experience” or Geoffrey C. Ward’s narration for “Pride of Our Nation,” where D-Day and Saipan are affectingly recalled in the fourth episode of Ken Burns’ magisterial “The War”?
Actually, what unites these admittedly disparate efforts is the presence of people with a stake in these stories. In “Life After People,” that means scientists and engineers who would be obliterated are the ones who suggest what would come to pass, and in “Walt Whitman,” it’s actor Chris Cooper who recites the poet’s ageless odes. But they provide no less conviction than the aged vets testifying to WWII’s required sacrifices — nor any less than Caylee and Mike and their respective families do while describing their otherwise unsung struggles.
Without scribes, none of these stories could be told on TV. Sure, such writing may not be as “original” as feature material, but it is no less compelling.
David de Vries, “Life After People” (History)
Ira Glass, “This American Life” (Showtime)
Jeff Grogan, “Intervention” (A&E)
Geoffrey C. Ward, “The War” (PBS)
Mark Zwonitzer, “Walt Whitman” (PBS)