In advance of President Obamas State of the Union address, USA Network presents AMERICAN CHARACTER ALONG HIGHWAY 50, a new documentary exploring the state of the American character over the last year during this crucial period in the countrys history.
Reported on by NBC News Tom Brokaw, AMERICAN CHARACTER ALONG HIGHWAY 50 is an outgrowth of USAs iconic Characters Welcome brand and the channels ongoing mission to turn its lens on real Americans and their stories. In recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.s work that changed the fabric of America, this television event will premiere on January 18, 2010 at 8/7c with limited commercial interruptions. The announcement was made by Bonnie Hammer, president, NBC Universal Cable Entertainment and Universal Cable Productions.
Co-produced by Peacock Productions, the one-hour primetime special follows Brokaw as he travels the 3,000-mile transcontinental road that has been called the backbone of America and documents the profound economic, political and cultural changes that Americans are facing today. In the wake of deep recession, ongoing wars, national health care and immigration policy, Brokaw immerses himself in the lives of everyday people from the eastern shore of Maryland to the California coast, revealing uniquely American tales of hardship, survival and hope.
“Highway 50 is a provocative snapshot of our country and its people,” said Hammer. “Tom Brokaw’s insight and empathy make him the perfect person to uncover the authentic drama in everyday lives.”
“For me this documentary has been a journey of renewal and reassurance that the American spirit lives on,” said Brokaw. “From the determined fishermen in Chesapeake Bay to the ongoing search for the American dream in Sacramento, viewers will see the changing face of our nation.
Since last spring, Brokaw has been broadcasting updates on his travels in Dispatches From The Road, short vignettes featuring select people and places he visited on his Highway 50 road trip. These accounts were televised in primetime on USA Network, as well as on the Today Show, MSNBC and NBC Nightly News and can be seen at Highway50.tv. The documentary will both expand on these stories and introduce new characters. Highlights of stops along the way include:
· Cambridge, MD Up against regulations, international competition and hot-button immigration issues, Brokaw meets the hard-working, hard-living watermen who have been fishing the famous Maryland blue crab for decades and are now fighting to stay afloat. This includes Jack Brooks, who may not be able to sustain business this year due to a shortage of visas for temporary seasonal workers. But like the nation, even in difficult times, the town continues to transform itself, exemplified by Amanda Bramble, who opens a successful seafood restaurant not with bank loans but with the help of the entire community.
· Washington, DC For poor predominately black inner city children, the capacity to achieve the American dream has for decades been stunted by dismal education systems. In Washington DC, viewers meet Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, a Korean American and former second-grade teacher, who is making bold, controversial changes to try to fix what is considered to be arguably one of the worst performing school districts in the nation.
· Hillsboro, OH Ever the symbolic nerve center of the country, the stop in Ohio coincides with a presidential town-hall meeting addressing healthcare and a slump in Obamas approval ratings. Brokaw follows Dan and April Looper as they struggle to support four children (one of whom has Cerebral Palsy) and teeter on the edge of unemployment.
· East St. Louis, IL In East St. Louis, IL, which voted overwhelmingly for Obama, Brokaw discovers residents still finding hope in his election and guidance in his word. Surrounded by poverty, unemployment, and one of the highest crime rates in the country, Pastor Kendall Granger founded an unconventional church where he preaches Obamas doctrine of personal responsibility and focuses on healing the broken link between black fathers and their families.
· St. Louis, Missouri For the past eight years the country has been involved in two of the longest and most divisive wars in American history. With the Presidents plan to withdraw from Iraq and escalate troops in Afghanistan, America will have a new generation of veterans and wounded warriors. In St. Louis, Brokaw meets Eric Greitens, a Rhodes Scholar and Navy Seal who has dedicated himself to giving returning veterans and wounded warriors the ability to continue to serve.
· Montrose, CO In Montrose, Brokaw examines Americas farming heritage and huge changes in the industry underway. Jeff Downs, owner of Kinikin Heights Natural Foods, is at the forefront of a revolution to change the way we eat. Opposed to commercial farms with jam packed feedlots and animals loaded with antibiotics and hormones, Downs runs a 700-acre ranch and has committed himself to sustainable farming.
· Grand Junction, CO Today, spending on doctors, hospitals and drugs consumes one in every six dollars Americans earn. Brokaw stops in Grand Junction, CO, a city that has one of the lowest costing health care systems in the nation, yet still has people falling through the cracks. Here he encounters Beverly Coons, a violently ill patient in St. Marys emergency room who says she lost her Medicare coverage after her marriage disqualified her by ninety dollars.
· Fernley, Nevada Fernley was one of the fastest growing cities in America but as the economy faltered and unemployment rose, it became ground zero for foreclosure in Nevada. Like a mother-bear protecting her lair, Shannon Oliver is a woman who Brokaw witnesses doing everything she can to hold onto her home and her piece of the American dream.
· Sacramento, California In many ways, Sacramento is a bellwether for the economic state of the nation. Brokaw spends time with former All-Star Point Guard for the Phoenix Suns, Kevin Johnson, who is living his dream as the first African American Mayor of a city that is only 15% Black, while facing some of the highest rates of unemployment, foreclosure and homelessness in the country.
· Folsom, California Carlos Hidalgo and his family were penniless refugees when they came to America from Nicaragua almost 30 years ago. But he worked hard and today he is the owner of Folsom Lake Dodge Chrysler Jeep, the #1 selling Dodge dealer in the 8th biggest economy in the world – the state of California. Now, Brokaw finds Hidalgo working tirelessly again to adapt his business to meet the changing economic landscape.
The documentary was inspired by a series of photographs by David Eustace along Highway 50 from the USA Network book American Character: A Photographic Journey, for which Brokaw penned the foreword. The USA Network-commissioned book was part of USAs Character Project, an ongoing artistic initiative to capture the character of America and pay tribute to the extraordinary people who make this country unique. Visit the official website: http://www.usanetwork.com/highway50/