An unmarried 16-year-old must decide whether to keep the baby she's expecting or give it up for adoption. A former college football star gets one more shot at saving his floundering professional career. Two women chefs are moving into the entrepreneurial ranks by opening their own restaurant.
These people are at turning points in their lives.
Accordingly, they're the subjects of "Turning Points," an unusual, ambitious new documentary series being produced by KCET Channel 28, premiering Wednesday at 9 p.m.
"We're doing those moments in life that everyone shares some relationship to--the points at which decisions are made that change their lives forever," said Stephen Kulczycki, vice president of programming at the public television station.
"Turning Points" is one of two new series that KCET is launching this year in its continuing effort to expand the range of local programming. The other, due in December, is a magazine show devoted to coverage of the arts.
The arts series, as yet untitled, will air quarterly, Kulczycki said, while seven hourlong "Turning Points" are planned between now and the end of the station's fiscal year in June. They join two other ongoing local series, "KCET Journal" and "Actors on Acting."
"Turning Points" evolved from KCET's desire to do a local magazine show, Kulczycki said in an interview. But rather than emulate the light, escapist approach of other such local programs--KCBS' "2 on the Town," KABC's "Eye on L.A." and KTTV's "PM Magazine," for example--the station opted for a harder, more realistic edge.
"We wanted to make it as real as possible, yet in the context of strong story values," he explained. Out of that came the idea for a series allowing viewers to "experience how others deal with change."
Jon Wilkman, an experienced documentary producer with credits at CBS, PBS and Home Box Office, was brought in to produce the series for KCET. He hopes it will generate new interest in the documentary form.
"There's been a lot of talk that the form is waning, if not dying, and there is something to that," he said. But the reason may lie more with the producers than with the audience, he suggested.
"There has been a move away from trying to deal with stories; there's more respect for style than for substance," Wilkman said. "We're going back to the real heart of what a documentary is, which is documenting people, events and emotions in a way that is respectful of that truth you're trying to get at."
The approach to "Turning Points," he said, is to follow people for a period of time--from a few hours to several months--as they deal with the changes that confront them, either by choice or by circumstance. The style of presentation will be straightforward and chronological, with a minimum of narration and static interviews, he said.
The stories will vary widely in theme and tone, Wilkman promised.
Coming subjects include a couple trying to rebuild their lives after losing their home in the Baldwin Hills fire, a woman who is going blind because of retinitis pigmentosa, a new attorney making his first appearance in court, three contestants vying for a $100,000 prize on a TV game show, a boy preparing for his bar mitzvah and a woman deciding whether to commit her ailing mother to a nursing home.
"The concept is to deliver, with a minimum amount of artifice, raw hunks of reality," Wilkman said. "We hope it will be compelling television."
KCET's forthcoming arts series is an outgrowth of the year-end specials it has produced in the last two years, "L.A.: The Arts," Kulczycki said. The hope, he said, is to produce an hourlong, magazine-style show every quarter that reviews what has been taking place on the local art, music, drama, film and television scene and looks ahead to future events.
Because of its commitment to get these two series under way, the program executive said, KCET will be producing fewer installments of its "KCET Journal" and "Actors on Acting" series this season and of the short "Videolog" features that air intermittently between programs.
"KCET Journal," the station's documentary series about serious local issues, already has delivered one new program this season, "Asylum," and another is scheduled for Nov. 20, "Vayan Con Dios," a report on Latinos leaving the Catholic church for other, non-traditional religious affiliations.
On tap for January is a program looking back over the last 20 years to see what has been promised and what actually has been delivered in the way of transportation, waste disposal and cleaner air. Also in the works are "Journals" on the public justice system and infertility, Kulczycki said.