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Two ways of dealing with the American heritage

Should we safeguard the older elements of our society or discard them? Two ways of dealing with the traditional are examined in calm but incisive documentaries from CBS News: "What's Good for General Motors" (CBS, Thursday, 8- 9 p.m., Aug. 6, check local listings), and "The Cowboy, the Craftsman and the Ballerina" (CBS, Monday, Aug. 10, 10-11 p.m., check local listings).

The story of Detroit's battle for survival is told with cool intelligence and the kind of graceful dignity always characteristic of Marlene Sanders's documentaries. (Remember her last prize-winning documentary, "What Shall We Do About Mother?"). If "what's good for General Motors is good for Detroit" says correspondent Sanders, "Mayor Coleman Young's experiment will be the model for other industrial cities in the 1980s."

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According to "What's Good for General Motors," after GM announced it was going to close two Detroit assembly plants with a huge loss of jobs for Detroiters the city administration and the company struck a deal that is now causing the largest relocation in the shortest period of time in US history.

GM agreed to spend $500 million to build a new plant. Detroit agreed to spend $182 million in public funds to clear the land and relocate around 3,500 people, and to give GM a 50 percent tax abatement for 12 years. Most of the homes (and a church) which had to be destroyed were in an area of Detroit commonly called Poletown, occupied mainly by Poles and blacks.

Was the city "blackmailed" by GM, as is claimed by Ralph Nader and some local residents who are fighting the arrangement?

Marlene Sanders visits many of the people involved in both making the arrangement and those fighting it. She manages to pinpoint the issues clearly, even though emotions run very high.

"The attempt to save a city is a costly gamble, not only in money but in the disruption of lives. Plainly," she concludes, "it is a gamble cities like Detroit are willing to take in their battle for survival."

Other cities -- and countries -- are watching carefully. Although bits of this documentary may be familiar to those who have seen it reported on the evening news, the full story is even more disturbing and thought-provoking. Executive producer is Howard Stringer.

Clearly there are no easy solutions, as Miss Sanders makes evident.But this film, alerting the rest of America's ailing big cities, constitutes still another major public service for CBS Reports, which is just concluding its week-long late-night reruns of "The Defense of the US."

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After its Thursday-night case history of a city being forced to destroy its aging housing heritage, CBS offers a Monday night documentary on the way individual American are preserving their human heritage. "The Cowboy, the Craftsman and the Ballerina" (CBS, Monday, 10-11 p.m.), anchored by ye olde "60 Minutes" faithful Morley Safer, investigates the way in which certain masters are sharing their crafts and their gifts with young apprentices. It is a thoughtful lesson in true preservation.

Mr. Safer strolls through the past and the present, focusing on several rare breeds -- the cowboy, the wooden-boat builder, and the traditional ballerina.

This CBS News Special, with veteran documentarian Perry Wolff as executive producer, manages to emphasize the great need of all civilizations to preserve the crafts that make them unique. It is an exciting show about the future, masquerading as a leisurely look into the past.

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