- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 16, 2004

‘Brown’ revisited

Television is doing its part to commemorate Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, the 1954 decision officially ending separate but equal schools , with a pair of new small screen documentaries that shed light on the case as well as its aftermath.

“I Sit Where I Want,” premiering at 9 tonight on N, the Noggin cable channel aimed at teens, follows a group of Buffalo, N.Y. students as they examine the issue of race in their school.

The students wrestle with why, after decades of integration, black, white and Latino students still sit only with their own race in the school cafeteria.

The special lets the children speak their minds — an often telling look at how they view race and bigotry. More enlightening, still, is watching their expressions during arguments, or even simple conversations. Those looks speak volumes about the attitudes and challenges the country faces toward a truly equal society.

Meanwhile, on Maryland Public Television, “People of Brown” explores the case by talking to Maryland residents affected by the decision. The special, airing tonight at 7, features interviews with key players in the case, including activist Michael Mitchell and former U.S. Sen. Charles McC. Mathias, the Republican who fought for passage of civil rights legislation at the local, state and national levels.

Elsewhere, the local cineplex (the new E Street Cinema in the District to be precise) also is weighing in by featuring a documentary highlighting the court case.

“With All Deliberate Speed,” a film by “Hoop Dreams” filmmaker Peter Gilbert, explores the social, cultural and political ramifications of the case both 50 years ago as well as today. The film marks the first documentary created by Discovery Communications’ new Discover Docs unit.

Brown on Brown

CNN also examines the Brown v. Board of Education case with the network’s Aaron Brown revisiting the site of the landmark case.

The news anchor will report from Topeka, Kan. to recall the historical perspective of the decision as well as the Plessy v. Ferguson case overturned by the ruling. The program also will profile Thurgood Marshall, Linda Brown and Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, all key players in the decision.

“NewsNight with Aaron Brown” airs weeknights at 10 on CNN.

More ‘Law’ ordered

The “Law & Order” franchise is such a sure thing for NBC that the network not only renewed its three incarnations through the 2005-2006 season, but also gave the green light for a fourth “Order” clone.

An agreement between NBC and producer Dick Wolf includes pickups through the 2005-2006 season for Mr. Wolf’s current series, “Law & Order,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” the Associated Press reports. The deal extends the shows through their 16th, seventh and fifth seasons, respectively.

And it makes official the fourth entry in the franchise, “Law & Order: Trial by Jury,” which will premiere at an unspecified time during the 2004-2005 season. Previously, Jerry Orbach, a longtime star of the original “Law & Order,” was announced as a transfer to the new series — described as “a richly textured drama set entirely in the arena of the courthouse.”

Continuing “Law & Order” stars include Sam Waterston and Jesse L. Martin from the original show, plus Christopher Meloni and Richard Belzer in “Special Victims Unit” and Vincent D’Onofrio on “Criminal Intent.”

All four dramas are filmed in New York.

“Law & Order,” which premiered in September 1990 with a cast that included Michael Moriarty, Christopher Noth and Richard Brooks (all long departed), was critically acclaimed but at first struggled to attract an audience.

In today’s cutthroat climate, the network might have canned the fledgling series.

Instead, the show caught on with viewers after a few seasons, becoming not only a ratings powerhouse (it ranks 13th for the 2003-2004 season) but also making history by spawning TV’s first “branded” drama spinoffs.

That practice is now in good use over at CBS, which may keep spinning its “CSI” franchise until we get “CSI: Hackensack.”

The third “CSI” series, “CSI: New York,” debuts this fall and is as much of a ratings sure thing as a network can have.

The “L&O;” series all share a gritty, New York look as well as narration broken up by title cards.

Mr. Wolf, a former advertising man, has long envisioned “Law & Order” as a flourishing brand.

“A brand extension is always a good thing,” he said in 2001, “unless you do something that doesn’t live up to the expectations for that brand.”

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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