New York — Commitment is the key.
First, there was the commitment of Lewis Freedman, director of the Program Fund of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, underwriter of the new Crisis to Crisis series (PBS, Fridays, 9-10 p.m.). He saw a need for a public broadcasting series ''which would supplement the middle-of-the-road broadcast journalism that has little by little taken over the airwaves.''
According to Mr. Freedman, ''Crisis to Crisis'' will be an ''op-ed'' page and a forum for those diverse voices that otherwise go unheard.
Then, there was the commitment of narrator John Houseman, credited by writer-coproducer-codirector (with Bernard Stone) Ana Carrigan with the initial idea for the premiere film. Mr. Houseman was struck by the need to investigate further the murder of four women in El Salvador.
Then, of course, there was Jean Donovan, the lay missionary whose work with the peasants of El Salvador ended when she and three co-workers were killed, allegedly by Salvadoran National Guardsmen. She is the subject of the first in the series, Roses in December.
Finally, there was former US Rep. Barbara Jordan, now a professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, hostess of the series. The Donovan story is an especially moving one for her, since she teaches young people every day in her work.
''Roses in December'' is the story of a young woman searching for meaning in her life, dedicating herself to easing the conditions of the poor in El Salvador , ending up a victim of what some have charged was a political assassination. The sensitive search through the diary of her life by filmmakers Carrigan and Stone is a kind of elevated detective story. Why did she decide to give up the frivolities of contemporary affluence and devote herself to aiding those less fortunate in far-off places?
With delicate understanding, the film probes Ms. Donovan's motivations and actions through diaries, letters, interviews with friends and relatives, snapshots, home movies, newsreels. It handles the material with appreciation of the fact that there may be personal dedication which must remain a mystery to the uncommitted.
''Roses in December'' is a fittingly relevant film for the premiere of the ambitious ''Crisis to Crisis'' series. It is as moving a documentary as has been seen this year. In its way, it is ''Missing'' without the melodramatics.
Chat with Barbara Jordan
Since January 1979 Miss Jordan has been public-service professor at the Texas university.
Is she completely out of politics now?
''I am indeed. I am out of politics altogether.'' The deep, vibrant, carefully enunciated words boom out of the telephone.
If Edward Kennedy should call and ask Barbara Jordan to be his running mate?
''I've ruled myself out. I am very pleased with what I am doing now. I did my service, and now I'm doing another service. I feel that because I was in government I can do a better job as a professor.
''I find a great number of my students committed to a future of substance. These young people very often have the kind of serious commitment we see in Jean Donovan. Of course, there is a certain amount of commitment which brings them here in the first place.''
What does Professor Jordan teach?
''A course in policy development and one in political values and ethics.''
Miss Jordan is remembered best by many people for her active participation in the Watergate impeachment hearings. The feeling was expressed during those hearings that government was no longer a good place for young people. Does she feel that there is a place in government for them now?
''I certainly do. I encourage their going into government, because it offers enormous possibilities for them. Times are different. They will be different. There is a whole new generation of governors and congressmen since Watergate.
''Decisions made in government affect every aspect of our lives. Young people with inquiring minds and a strong sense of the future can help bring important decisions into a good focus and provide alternative choices. We need fresh minds providing us a range of alternatives for decisions.''
Has Barbara Jordan written her Watergate book?
''No, I have not. And I do not plan to.''
In retrospect, does she believe the Watergate hearings were good for America?
''Yes. America had to have a window to see exactly what was going on, the dimensions of the event and the impact that it had on us. We who were in Congress would have been quite remiss if we had not shown it all to the American people in as great detail as possible.''