Good harvest for selective viewers
Every now and then the alleged TV wasteland turns fertile. But only carefully selective viewers manage to harvest the rich crop since it is so obscured by dross and chaff. This week, Tuesday and Wednesday are especially good days for discriminating viewer/sharecroppers.
You may not have the time or the inclination to see all of the following shows (as a matter of fact, because of overlapping schedules, it would be impossible). But they constitute a strikingly varied even hours of electronic entertainment-information. Not all of it is superb, but much of it is worth putting on your viewing schedule. Here they are in order of their scheduling -- but better check all in local listings since time and even day (on PBS shows) may vary.
"A Is For Atom, B Is For Bomb" (PBS, Tuesday, 8-9 P.M.) is still another fascinating adventure in information in the WGBH "Nova" series. This one is a psycho-nuclear study of Dr. Edward Teller, sometimes called "father of the H-bomb" and the acknowledged hero of what producer-director-writer Brian Kaufman calls "the establishment media."
Many scientists express great distaste for Dr. Teller's point of view -- and with the kind of straightforward honesty seldom seen among politicians. And Dr. Teller doesn't hesitate to make it clear that he is gung-ho for the H-bomb, against test ban treaties, for increased civil defense. Above all, he is anti-Soviet.
Co-executive producer John Angier assured me that it was difficult to find pro- Teller scientists -- so the show allowed Dr. John Foster, vice-president of TRW Inc. to make his case for Dr. Teller, despite the fact that TRW Inc. is a commercial underwriter for the series. In TV documentaries, however, even the perception of conflict- of interest where it may not exist tends to harm the believability. However, aside from that lapse, this is a disturbingly prophetic hour.
"Goodtime Girls" (ABC, Tuesday 8:30- 9 p.m.), despite its distasteful and entirely misleading name, is a charming bit of electronic fluff, spoofing the life of a group of young women sharing a room in 1942 wartime Washington, D.C. A kind of soft- edge "Laverne and Shirley," it is full of physicial humor on the order of that show -- but done with charm, taste, sensitivity, and warmth.
The costumes, hairdos, and pop songs of the period are utilized with hilarious accuracy and the cast of characters display their individual idiosyncracies for pleasant comic effect. Outstanding is Georgia Engel as the naive roommate who thinks of the war as "that thing with the Germans." "Goodtime Girls" is harmless, mindless, goodtime fun.
"Once Upon a Family" (CBS, Tuesday), 9-11 p.m.) Will inevitably be compared with the film "Kramer vs. Kramer" and for good reason: It has almost exactly the same plot. Different, though, is the conclusion, and that is probably the most unsatisfying part of this mother/father/children triangle. Directed by Richard Michaels, peopled with a supercast -- especially Barry Bostwick as the father, Marcia Strassman as the girlfriend and Nancy Marchand as the mother -- the drama boasts a super-script by talented screenwriter Alvin Sapinsley. This is a familiar tale of the would-be liberated wife who walks out on her family, then returns to claim her children after the father has nurtured then successfully. It could have been soap opera, but the skill of all involved turns it into a poignant contemporary drama, even though it compresses its solution a bit too much for total believability. This is original TV drama at its best -- relevant without being exploitive, sensitive without being cloying, serious without being ponderous. But be prepared to cry a little.
"Hudson River" (PBS, Wednesday, 10- 11 p.m.) casts fresh light on polluted waters. Produced and directed by Jack Ofield, this beautifully photographed saga of the great river traces it from pristine purity to pollution -- and, perhaps, back again. One of the world's most scenic rivers, the Hudson has gone through good and bad days and director Ofield allows the old-timers to tell the tale in great part. Utilizing film clips, old photos and prints, as well as glorious modern footage, "Hudson River" is as honest and true as the Fulton steamboats it chronicles.
"Edward and Mrs. Simpson" (Mobil Showcase network, check local listings, Wednesday 7:30-9 p.m. and five succeeding Wednesdays 8-9 p.m.) will be airing on 56 stations in most of the top markets.
This Thames Television miniseries traces the romance of Edward VIII and commoner Wallis Simpson. Filled with the feel and the look of the 1940s, directed with impeccable style by Waris Hussein, "Edward and Mrs. Simpson" is not merely superb royal soap opera, it is an accurate peep into the machinations of the relationship between British statesmen and the monarchy. Baldwin, Atlee, and Churchill take active parts in all the infighting. Edward Fox plays the Prince of Wales with stiff-upper-chin believability while Cynthia Harris is just a bit too cold as Wallis Simpson. One wonders where the famous grace of the woman is hidden.
Although allegedly found "appaling" by the royal family when it aired in England last year and reportedly eliciting the comment from the Duchess, "Why couldn't they have waited until I died?" the series is more sympathetic to the couple than might have been expected. It is not at all the picture of evil which is currently being painted in "The Windsor Story" best seller. Rather, the series is based upon Lady Frances Donaldson's 1974 biography, "Edward VIII." Edward is perceived as a man blinded by love (he was especially drawn to mature married women all his life) and determined to make Wallis his wife -- and his queen -- against all odds. She connived indirectly and seemed to defer to his wishes. Well, the odds won out and the series follows the King through his abdication and marriage. One is left with a vague feeling of pity and sorrow for a King who might have been . . . and a queen who could never have been.
"Edward and Mrs. Simpson," with the familiar face of Robert McNeil playing Alastaire Cook for the series, should be crowned monarch of the 1980 television season. It is a series rich in panoply, depth, color, and dignity as should be expected of all true royalty.
"Every Four Years" (PBS, Wednesday, 9-10 p.m. and the two succeeding Wednesdays) was not available for screening at press time, but it gives every evidence of being an exceptional series to add to the schedule of selective viewers. This three-party study of the presidency is hosted by Howard K. Smith and features a Gallup poll, especially commissioned by WHYY/Philadelphia, which explores public attitudes toward the office.
So, it is apparent that TV, too, has its own "right stuff." And a fair share of it is being displayed on Tuesday and Wednesday.