I just got done watching a DVD of Channel 2’s “Senate Race Minnesota: 3 Big Moments,” which airs at 8 p.m. tonight (Wednesday). A few quick thoughts:
1. Focusing on the personal, especially near the end of a heated campaign season, is a better idea than I thought. I’m a wonk by nature, and almost don’t care about these folks’ personal struggles. (Because pols so relentlessly engage in their own puffery, there’s a real danger of saccharine poisoning even if proper journalists explore the personal side.) However, the candidates’ bad, mean sides have gotten plenty of airtime by now, and it’s worth remembering there are people in there, too.
2. A half-hour isn’t enough time for three candidates; it’s like guzzling herbal tea. Storytelling requires a relaxed pace, and Mary Lahammer is a savvy interviewer, but three “big moments” of three candidates leaves you about three minutes for each tale, which often doesn’t feel long enough. (Perhaps the half-hour model works better when there are two candidates.) An hour overall — 20 minutes on each candidate — would’ve been perfect.
So how did the profilees come off?
Dean Barkley seemed the most human. His admission that he fell into depression and drinking following his brief Senate turn seems heartfelt, although as a fellow depressionista, I cringed a bit when Barkley all but pronounced himself cured. It was nice to meet his kids, and the mournful way he talks of his divorce will hit home with many. Dean draws more support from men, and I’m curious how women will view him after this.
Norm Coleman will get the most attention because Lahammer asked him about rumored infidelity. I found his response rushed and evasive, but I’m not a Norm guy. Judge for yourself — especially about whether it matters. I liked his kids (one reason for a longer show is to judge offspring better), but the big winner is wife Laurie, who comes off as a lot warmer, smarter and altogether more human than her relatively impassive, stagey-seeming campaign performances.
Al Franken’s relationship with his wife Franni comes off as utterly charming, and like all the candidates, you like him more after meeting his kids. I know many comics, some of whom know Al, and I’m not sure any profile this season has captured the attention-craving mania of the comic mind. But that’s not how this special works; in the end, human frailty is framed in the best possible light, yet what’s there is largely convincing.