October 2024 | GBH’s American Experience
Despite the assassinations of four US presidents (Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Kennedy), the in-office deaths of four (Harrison, Taylor, Harding, FDR), the wounding of two (T. Roosevelt, Reagan) and attempts on the lives of several others, before 1963, the unthinkable was unaddressed in the US Constitution. For the first two hundred years of America’s democracy, it was not a foregone conclusion that the vice president would step in to replace the president in times of crisis. The office itself has been an afterthought, a punchline, and an Achilles heel for the president. But vice presidents of the United States have also acted as stabilizers, tiebreakers and architects of critical policy despite the office being described by one disgruntled VP as “not worth a bucket of warm spit.” So what happens when the President of the United States can’t fulfill their duties due to death, illness or incapacity? In this one-hour film, A Heartbeat Away, we will focus in on the fraught period between 1963 and 1976 when a grief-stricken, then scandalstricken America was forced to confront the purpose of the vice president and the succession process through the evolution of the 25th amendment.
Director, Michelle Ferrari has been creating innovative, critically acclaimed documentary narratives for nearly two decades. Her work as a screenwriter and story editor has been seen on PBS, HBO, and at film festivals nationwide, and has garnered honors from the Writers Guild of America, the Western Writers Association, the Organization of American Historians, the Sundance Film Festival, and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. The writer of numerous American Experience films –– among them The Perfect Crime, Silicon Valley, Roads to Memphis, and Kit Carson –– Ferrari is perhaps best known for the highly rated Seabiscuit, which earned her a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing. She wrote and directed Sandra Day O’Connor: The First, Edison, Rachel Carson, The Eugenics Crusade (2019 Writers Guild Award), and, most recently, the Peabody-nominated two-part series The Vote for American Experience. Additional credits include the landmark PBS series Half the Sky and the Emmy-winning HBO documentary Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and holds an M.A. in American History from Columbia University.