FRONTLINE Close to Home on WXXI-TV

Tue, 03/23/2010 - 9:00pm

Pictured: Deborah Boles cuts Emma Nelson’s hair.

Credit: Claire Holt

FRONTLINE chronicles the impact of the recession on one unlikely American neighborhood.

Producer Ofra Bikel chronicles how the middle class is faring in this recession through the stories of the people whom she’s come to know at the hair salon she’s frequented for the past 20 years. The film reveals the struggles of a small business owner to stay afloat, her sister’s risk of imminent foreclosure on her Florida home and the various clients whose lives intersect at this New York City salon — from well-to-do bankers to struggling actors, each with a story to tell about how they’re getting by in these turbulent times.

FRONTLINE “Close to Home airs Tuesday, March 23 at 9 p.m. on WXXI-TV (DT21.1/cable 1011 and 11).

As the U.S. unemployment rate hits a 25-year high and the Dow Jones Industrial Average hits a six-year low, award-winning FRONTLINE producer Ofra Bikel (“The Hugo Chávez Show,” “The Case for Innocence”) chronicles the recession’s impact on one unlikely American neighborhood — New York’s Upper East Side.

Bikel decides to set up her cameras in the hair salon she’s patronized for 20 years. It’s an intimate space where she has come to know well the surprisingly diverse clientele — from athletic trainers and housewives to high-end bankers, actors and opera singers. Despite expectations that this neighborhood is a secure bastion of privilege, these days, when clients get in the chair, they offer a window into a country in recession: Some are broke, others don’t have a plan and they’re all looking to commiserate.

Deborah Boles, the owner and sole hairdresser at Deborah Hair Designs, started the business in 1985. “I wanted a place where people can go and they can feel comfortable,” she says. “They know they belong here.” But it’s all on the line with the current downturn — clients come less often; some skip coloring or skip the trim — and as Boles watches neighboring businesses go under, she wonders how long she can survive.

Barbara, Deborah’s sister, helps out at the salon, but she has been struggling with her own economic crisis. After buying a home in Florida at the height of the market, she now has a subprime mortgage that she can no longer afford. Unable to pay the exorbitant interest, she has had to take in four tenants, each with their own stories of foreclosure and unemployment.

Since 1983, FRONTLINE has served as PBS' flagship public affairs series. FRONTLINE's stature is reaffirmed each week through incisive documentaries covering the scope and complexity of the human experience.