PBS' 'Retro Report' listens to the past to make sense of today

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Monday, October 7, 2019
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Sandy Kenyon reports on a new PBS series that makes history come alive to help explain the present

NEW YORK (WABC) -- A new PBS series takes a look at some of today's most pressing issues, the challenges we face right now, and looks to the past to try and understand them.

In school, some of us learned that, "those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it," and "Retro Report" gives new truth to those words:

The show is all about listening to the echoes of the past, rewinding to yesterday to make sense of today.

"Recycling on a mass scale can be traced back to the 1980s," co-host Celeste Headlee said. "It was fueled by growing public awareness and a story about a barge filled with New York trash that got turned away at every port."

Though some of the stories will be more familiar to an older generation, this is not your parents' PBS.

"PBS has always maybe taken these little steps towards a path in diversity," co-host Masud Olufani said. "I think it's kind of exploded now."

Olufani is an artist originally from our area who was inspired by history as a young man.

"That comes from a lot of the reading I did on the subway going from Far Rockaway, Queens, to go to Newark to go to art school," he said.

"Retro Report" provides context for events that start trends, such as when Colin Kaepernick sparked a movement in the NFL by taking a knee during the national anthem.

There is precedent for that, says Olufani.

"if you take a look through history, that ties perfectly to the 1968 Olympic Games when the black sprinters took to the podium and raised their fists in protest," he said. "So here, you have this older story that informs this later story."

While journalism is often called, "the first draft of history," "Retro Report" is the second draft.

"Our present moments are built off of the past, so in order to understand where we are, and also, perhaps, where we may be going, it's so critical to have a historical perspective," Olufani said.

By showing us how past is prologue, "Retro Report" makes history come alive in the present.

It is a lively pace, and contributions from humorist Andy Borowitz ensure the show is also very entertaining.

The series premieres Monday night.


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