"Bill Moyers: In Search Of The Constitution" PBS Miniseries DVD Review: constitutional investigations

One of Bill Moyers’ specialties over the years has been his ability to thoroughly investigate a subject, and present it in an engaging manner for the television audience. Nowhere is this more apparent than on his PBS miniseries, "Bill Moyers: In Search Of The Constitution."


The eleven one-hour episodes were produced to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the Constitution in 1987. They have just been released in a four-DVD box set by Acorn Media, and are as interesting today as they were 24 years ago.

The majority of the programs feature one-on-one interviews with leading scholars and four Supreme Court justices. The justices in question are William J. Brennan, Harry A. Blackmun, Lewis F. Powell Jr., and the first-ever female justice, Sandra Day O’Connor. The appointment of O’Connor to the Supreme Court in 1981 was one of the President Reagan’s most controversial actions at the time. His conservative base was appalled by this, as O’Connor was a big supporter of the doomed ERA (Equal Rights Amendment).

In fact, Reagan looms large in this series, as he was in his second and final term at the time. The Iran-Contra scandal had just broken as these shows were being taped, and it comes up repeatedly. It is the main topic of Episode Seven: “Strictly Speaking.” In this one, Reagan’s attorney general Edwin Meese is interviewed, as well as Judge Robert Bork. Both defend the President in various ways, although Bork is much more convincing than Meese.

Watching these shows today, one of the key points about the Constitution becomes crystal clear. It is a living document, subject to interpretation by the Supreme Court as times change. Looking back at these programs now, they illustrate just how much the world has changed since 1987, and yet the concerns remain very much the same.

"Bill Moyers: In Search Of The Constitution" is an exhaustive study, and extremely intriguing. The ways in which it shapes and informs every American’s lives is profound, whether we notice it or not. The set’s extras include updates on all of the participants, and a biography of Bill Moyers. There is also a 16-page “Viewers Guide” booklet, which outlines each episode and offers informative essays about the document.

For anyone with an interest in law, government, or their rights as spelled out in The Bill Of Rights, this is an essential set.

By Greg Barbrick

About the author

Greg Barbrick has been watching TV so long he remembers watching first run episodes of Star Trek.

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On: Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:

Greg, this does sound really great. I watched the Reagan documentary on HBO recently and was really interesting to delve back into that era and how it reflects on today. And bringing in the angle of the constitution and bringing in issues like Iran-Contra, which really dominated the news for many months, hearing from Bork (a very controversial figure himself), etc. is important time spent for any serious student of history, the law, and so on. 

On: Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Dave said:

I need to watch this, I feel like now more than ever, everyone should gain a better understanding of the constitution. Great review Greg.

On: Thursday, February 17, 2011
Gordon S. Miller said:

Moyers comes through again.  PBS needs to get their own version of TVLand running


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