The Top TV Program of 2018: CNN's "Students of Stoneman" Town Hall

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The pain caused by the death of a single innocent person at the hand of a lunatic is unthinkable; multiply that by dozens and it becomes unimaginable.  Make the murder weapon a gun and the result is a fury that spreads across the country like wildfire, setting off savage arguments and debates over gun control.  At that point it becomes political, and as we have learned in recent years that’s the occasion for an unforgiveable lack of action on the part of our nation’s leadership.  The horrors of mass murders at schools, restaurants and other public places date back farther than most people realize, but they became a relentless ongoing issue with the Columbine High School massacre in April, 1999, which resulted in the deaths of 12 students and one teacher and injuries to 21 others and seemed to set off an ongoing outcry for gun control and greater awareness of mental health issues.  Twenty years and the presidencies of two Democrats and two Republicans later nothing has been done to advance either.  Not even the slaughter of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the sixth anniversary of which just passed, could move the needle.  And then came Parkland.  The mass shooting on February 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, left 17 students dead and many others seriously injured, brought on the usual gasbagging in the media and in Washington, D.C., and renewed fears of endless arguing with no outcome.  But in the immediate aftermath two inspiring things happened.

First, survivors of the Parkland shooting, all of them members of Generation Z, came forward with the rallying cry #NeverAgain.  They weren’t leaving their lives in the hands of systems that had egregiously failed them and so many others.  They quickly began making the rounds of broadcast and cable news programs and doing interviews with major media outlets about the need for greater gun control while also raising money to continue their crusade.  We hadn’t seen the “younger generation” take to the streets with such fiery passion since young Baby Boomers protested the Vietnam War in the ‘60s.

Second, just one week after the Parkland massacre, CNN hosted a live two-hour Town Hall titled Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action, at which several remarkably composed students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas -- among them a young woman who had been shot -- engaged in forceful, emotionally charged conversations with Senators Marco Rubio (below left) and Bill Nelson, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch and chilly NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch.  They weren’t debating anything; they were demanding action.

To call this riveting television does not do it justice.  I’ve never seen anything as nerve-frying as a group of bold kids who just days earlier had been shot at and were made to watch friends die horrible, violent deaths holding it together as they firmly but politely asked for answers and explanations from powerful adults who are against gun control, accept money from the NRA, etc.  They may not have gotten what they wanted out of it, but they gave me hope that for the first time in over 40 years young people might once again make change happen.

Trying to explain the power of this telecast -- my choice for Program of the Year – cannot do it justice.  Better to watch it, listen to a podcast version of it or read a transcript from it at

There was further proof on March 24 that these kids would be true to their word and not stop until they brought about change when hundreds of thousands of people turned out on the mall in D.C. for the March for Our Lives.  (Marches also took place in over 800 other locations around the country.)  The D.C. event was televised by all three cable news networks (with cutaways to some of the others) and it included what may have been the most unforgettable few minutes of television this year:  Survivor Emma Gonzalez (now 19, pictured at top) standing silently for over four minutes after making brief remarks to the crowd, tears rolling down her cheeks.  What was going on?  Was she having a psychological break?  Was she overcome?  Why wasn’t anybody going to her aid?  Then a smart phone alarm went off and she started talking again.  The timing had been deliberate.

“Since the time that I came out here, it has been six minutes and 20 seconds,” she said, referencing the amount of time the Parkland murderer had been firing at the kids.  “The shooter has ceased shooting, and will soon abandon his rifle, blend in with the students as they escape, and walk free for an hour before arrest.  Fight for your lives before it's someone else's job.”

Unfortunately, it is still a fact that truer words were never spoken, and likely will not be for a long time to come.  I hope CNN stays the course in following the actions of Gonzalez and her fellow fighters with the same passion with which it organized that extraordinary Town Hall.

Read Part One of My Top 25 TV Programs of 2018.

Read Part Two of My Top 25 TV Programs of 2018.

Read Part Three of My Top 25 TV Programs of 2018. 

Read Part Four of My Top 25 TV Programs of 2018.

Read Part Five of My Top 25 Programs of 2018.

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