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The Alistair Cooke Salute

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(PBS, 9-10:20 p.m.): They're saying goodbye to a man whose insight, good sense, and civilized attitude have been showing "Masterpiece Theatre" viewers - for more than 20 years - just how effective a talking head can be. Last Sunday Cooke signed off as host - or "headwaiter" as he calls it - of that notable series, having presided over it with enormous distinction since its 1971 premiere.

Offered in the way of a friendly reminiscence, this special is hosted by three longtime Cooke friends and colleagues: Peter Ustinov, Robert MacNeil, and Christopher Sarson (first `Masterpiece' producer). Cooke fans will glimpse the impressive range and duration of his career via photos and interviews, and through clips from shows like "Omnibus," an early TV series hosted by a youthful, black-haired version of today's Cooke.We'll also catch a bit of his renowned address to Congress on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the Continental Congress. We'll be reminded of his marathon tenure as chief American correspondent for Britain's Manchester Guardian, for which he wrote a well-loved column. We'll even hear some 12-bar blues, a passion of Cooke's (one time in his apartment he played for me, with obvious pride, a tape recording of his piano style).And there is life after "Masterpiece Theatre" - his weekly BBC "Letter From America," for instance, probably the world's oldest uninterrupted radio series. Hav ing done it for 46 years, Cooke has no intention of dropping it now.

Please check local listings for broadcast time in your area.

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