No doubt Ted Turner isn't the only person who thought that doing a comprehensive documentary series about the Cold War was a good idea. But when you're Ted Turner and you make that suggestion, it becomes reality.

"When we were in St. Petersburg for the Goodwill Games in '94, the Russians were so friendly then and it was clear to me that the Cold War was over," said Turner. "And while we were at the games, I had the idea to do a series on the Cold War, as much like `The World at War' as possible."And the thoughts he expressed in St. Petersburg have turned into the stunning 24-part, 24-hour documentary series "The Cold War."

"Over coffee that morning, Ted explained to me that since the Cold War had been over for several years now almost all of the files were open around the world, and that it was possible, really for the first time, to tell the complete story of the Cold War," said Pat Mitchell, the president of CNN productions and co-executive producer of the documentary. "To create a comprehensive record of what happened over the last 45 years from every point of view."

Well, perhaps not every point of view, but the documentary interviews an amazing number of people - more than 500, including three U.S. presidents (Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George Bush), Mikhail Gorbachev and Fidel Castro.

"And Ted also pointed out that since many of the key policy makers and eyewitnesses to this history were getting quite old, it was important to move fast and make sure that we go on the record with accounts of what happened in these countries by the people who put those policies in place," Mitchell added.

Mitchell and Turner hired Sir Jeremy Isaacs - the man behind the acclaimed World War II documentary "The World at War" - to executive produce "The Cold War." Over the course of 3 1/2 years, he assembled a panel of historians (from both East and West), looked through a million feet of film or tape, shot an additional 1,000 hours of tape and interviewed a stunning array of both regular people and world leaders.

The 24 episodes - narrated by Kenneth Branagh - cover the years 1917-1991, from the beginnings of the Soviet Union through its dissolution. And all the conflict between the U.S.S.R. and other communist nations and the United States and other Western nations through those decades.

It's an amazing achievement - one that will far outlive the current television season. This is the sort of show you're going to see on television for years to come, and it's a documentary that future documentaries will be measured against.

"It's one of the most important television projects of the last several years," said Turner. "That's my opinion, of course. But I know that when you see it, you'll have the same opinion.

"And when you go through it and see just how close we came to destruction - what's the point of it? Why do it? Because in order to understand the present and the future, you need to know the past."