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TV serves up fine family fare

Thoughtful 'Miracle Worker' and funny 'Seventeen Again' lead list of good choices

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It's a rare TV week that offers a range of good family movies, and this is one of them. But most are bunched together on Sunday, so choose carefully.

The Wonderful World of Disney presents a fine retelling of "The Miracle Worker" (ABC, Nov. 12, 7-9 p.m.) based on William Gibson's Tony Award-winning 1960 play of the same name. Masterpiece Theatre offers a lovely story of turn-of-the-century England with "The Railway Children" (PBS, Nov. 12, 9-11 p.m.).

The sweetly goofy comedy "Seventeen Again" (Showtime, Nov. 12, 8-10 p.m.) tells the story of an elderly divorced couple who get to see their lives from the vantage of youth.

And one more biblical epic rolls out in time for the holiday season with a new miniseries ("From Creation to the Commandments") called "In the Beginning..." (NBC, Nov. 12 and 13, 9-11 p.m.). See interview with star Jacqueline Bisset, page 18.

The most touching and thoughtful of the lot is no doubt The Miracle Worker. The play has been done so often and is so well-written that, like "Our Town," it has passed into the culture as an icon of Americana.

The story of blind and deaf Helen Keller is given new energy with a fine young cast. It's very different from the Patty Duke-Anne Bancroft version - but then it's time for another generation of viewers to experience the story with new performances.

This time Helen is played by seven-year-old beauty Hallie Kate Eisenberg. She is best known, perhaps, for her Pepsi commercials, but has already appeared in several movies and TV shows. She is nearer Helen's age than Ms. Duke was, and her performance, while not quite so layered, is expertly done and fully believable.

Best of all, she is joined by the marvelous Alison Elliott, who was right as rain in "Wings of the Dove," and makes a feisty, fresh young Annie Sullivan - determined, intelligent, and creative.

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