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The Watchman: Anti-Social Networks on PBS; Feel the Burn on Hulu

Anti-Social Networks on PBS

Niall Ferguson’s Networld debuts on PBS March 17. It’s a three-part docuseries that looks at the role of social networks in our lives, and how they are not quite delivering on the ideals envisioned for them years ago.

Historian and author Ferguson hosts. Stephen Segaller, executive in charge, said Ferguson likes to “use history to shed light on the present day.”

The series dives into social networks from the days of yore, including how the printing press helped Martin Luther’s Reformation take off in the 16th century, and how Paul Revere used his network of social compatriots to spread the word about the British coming, which proved to be a more efficient method than riding his horse around town, shouting his head off.

Networld dives into how social networks assemble vast amounts of intelligence on their users. “Whether we like it or not, that can be used for nefarious purposes, or for commercial purposes,” Segaller said.

Ferguson’s books include The Square and The Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook. He relies on brainy insiders to share their insights. Segaller mentioned “a half-dozen of the most brilliant scientists and theorists” talking about “how communication networks behave.”

Interviewees include Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google.

Fake news gets a close-up in the series, which looks into Russia’s efforts to influence the U.S. president election four years ago, and again this year. The coronavirus, Segaller said, is a reminder of how vulnerable our societies can be.

“Disruption is very bad for social cohesion,” Segaller said, “including the economy and other things we hold dear.”

Feel the Burn on Hulu

Little Fires Everywhere gets going on Hulu March 18. Reese Witherspoon plays Elena, mother of a wealthy family in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Kerry Washington portrays Mia, single mother with a teen daughter who moves into Shaker Heights, and into Elena’s life.

Witherspoon and Washington executive produce, as does showrunner and creator Liz Tigelaar.

“It’s a show about women that’s mostly made by women,” Tigelaar said. “It has a real perspective about the struggle and joys of motherhood and the pain of loss, and about race and class.”

Joshua Jackson, Gavin Lewis and Lexi Underwood are also in the cast.

The show is set a few decades ago, but Tigelaar said Little Fires is super-timely today. “It’s easy to sit back and judge someone who is not like you,” she said. “This raises really big questions, like, what is a good mother?”

Celeste Ng wrote the novel that inspired the series. She’s a producer on the show, and has a cameo to boot. Tigelaar shared something Ng said about the project: “I wrote the song, and you guys do the cover version.”