Twenty Years of Conversations That Matter:
Dialogue on Idaho Public Television

By Marcia Franklin, Producer and Host

November 10, 2014

On November 8, 1994, the "Republican Revolution" swept America, with the GOP securing majorities in the U.S. House, Senate and governors' offices, including Idaho.

Marcia, with Bill Mauk and Mike Reynoldson, 1994

Two days later, on November 10th, 1994, I discussed the election results with Bill Mauk, the chairman of the Idaho Democratic Party and Mike Reynoldson, the executive director of the Idaho Republican Party.

It would be our first Dialogue program.

Twenty years and quite a few gray hairs later (and interestingly, with another Republican rout in the headlines), I'm proud to say we've produced more than 800 Dialogues, covering every kind of political issue, as well as dozens of humanities topics as well.

Dialogue started because I thought there were enough robust subjects in Idaho to sustain a weekly program. In order to include statewide viewers, we decided to include phone calls, as well as guests in our Moscow and Pocatello studios. (I'm dating myself when I say that the "Dial" part of Dialogue was a pun on dialing a phone!)

Managers at Idaho Public Television were supportive, and so co-host Joan Cartan-Hansen and I went merrily along our way, along with directors Ricardo Ochoa, Al Hagenlock and our trusty crew members, without whom Dialogue would not get on the air.

That first year saw interviews with Govs. Cecil Andrus and Phil Batt, Reps. Helen Chenoweth and Mike Crapo, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Anne Fox.

Marcia Franklin and Joan Cartan-Hansen
on the Dialogue set, 2007

We delved into the growing militia movement, including the Oklahoma City bombing and the Ruby Ridge incident. In a particularly heated conversation, Ada County Sheriff Vaughn Killeen took on Samuel Sherwood of the U.S. Militia Association. That first year, we also discussed welfare reform, the farm bill, and the minimum wage.

The next year would see the advent of one of my favorite shows, "Good Winter Reading," a program I've tried to produce each year, along with "Good Summer Reading." And in a special hour-long program with over 3,000 attempted phone calls, we analyzed the bear-baiting initiative on the ballot. Programs on Fish and Game issues generated some of the most phone calls in our history.

And we didn't shy away from topics that affected us, producing a special hour-long program on the controversial national PBS documentary "It's Elementary," over which some members of the Idaho legislature threatened to defund us (we got more than 4,000 attempted calls on that one, the most ever.)

It's important to note that never once have my managers told me not to cover a particular issue, even if it was sensitive, such as wolf reintroduction or gay rights. Certainly, in a world where journalists are often held captive to the whims of advertisers, that's a rare gift.

For 20 years, Dialogue has also been a place where you can watch in-depth discussions you can't see elsewhere. In 2006, I'm proud to say that the show won a regional Emmy for one such discussion, on the Nez Perce water agreement. The program has garnered numerous other awards as well.

Around 2009, we started seeing a decline in phone calls, in part because people weren't watching live "appointment" television as much, and also because we were also doing more taped programs that didn't involve calls. So in March 2012, Joan hosted our last live show with phone calls.

In July of that year, Joan would leave Dialogue to devote her energies to her wonderful science program for children, Science Trek. I learned so much from her over 18 seasons of Dialogue, and still appreciate her insights.

Kristin Armstrong with Marcia on the Dialogue set, 2009

Isabel Wilkerson with Marcia
Idaho Humanities Council Distinguished Humanities Lecture
Idaho Falls, 2014

In the past two years, I've refocused Dialogue on humanities issues, including interviews with authors, filmmakers, historians and other "thought leaders." For years, I had been gravitating to these kinds of conversations, including with writers who come to speak to the Idaho Humanities Council and at the Sun Valley Writers' Conference. There's just something very satisfying about spending a full half-hour with a really smart person talking about their ideas. Hence our moniker, "Conversations That Matter."

Some of my favorite conversations have been with Doris Kearns Goodwin, David Halberstam, Frank McCourt, Colum McCann, Nathaniel Philbrick, Naomi Shihab Nye, Abraham Verghese, Rep. John Lewis and Idaho's own Michael Kirk, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Heather Rae and Michael Hoffman.

Doris Kearns Goodwin with Marcia
Sun Valley Writers Conference, 2006

Michael Kirk with Marcia on the Dialogue set, 2013

This is where I get to plug the fact that all of the Dialogue programs with authors can be found on one super website called the "Scout Dialogue Writers Collection." Major thanks to all the staff who make that happen behind the scenes.

You can also watch many of our Dialogues at IdahoPTV's main online video player. Surely, the advent of video streaming is one of the most consequential changes I've seen in the past 20 years as a broadcast journalist. I think it's wonderful, because it provides not only the ability for viewers to watch when they want to, but also acts as an archive. And people all over the world are now watching Dialogue!

I'm fortunate that for the majority of Dialogue's tenure on the air, the Laura Moore Cunningham Foundation has supported what we do. Without their financial assistance, I'm not sure the program would have lasted as long as it has.

I'm also grateful for the partnership we have with Boise State Public Radio, which rebroadcasts Dialogue on Sunday mornings.

Rep. John Lewis with Marcia
Sun Valley Writers Conference, 2014

And last, but certainly not least, are our wonderful viewers. Just the other day, a mother told me that she "drinks coffee" with me every weekend while watching Dialogue. Her young daughter was with her. When I told her she might be interested in the interview with Rep. John Lewis, her eyes lit up.

"Oh, yes," her mother said. "She has his comic book."

"That's what I talked with him about!" I said.

The little girl literally started jumping up and down with excitement.

There is no greater feeling than to see that. I honestly believe I have the best viewers.

Thank you, and onward!