Solid, non-network documentaries
Two syndicated shows appearing throughout the country on independent stations this week offer some fascinating respite from formula network television. While the commercial networks unload failed pilots for futile sitcoms that should have been aborted on the launching pad, some local stations are reaching out for worthwhile programming that major network policy in regard to independent production usually rules out in advance.
"Hollywood" is a 13-part celebration of the American silent film, produced in England by Thames Television. It is better than the recent NBC "Moviola" or the syndicated version of Harold Robbins's "Dream Merchants."
The commentary, read by James Mason, is barely adequate, but the marvelous film clips alone make this series worth watching. It was written directed and produced by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill. In bookstores right now is a new book with the same title, a collection of stills plus excellent continuity based upon this series. It has pictures from the collection of the ubiquitous John Kobal, who possesses one of the world's greatest private film-photograph collections.
Check local listings for "Hollywood" airings -- it's worth the electronic search, and you can feel free to start viewing at any one of the 13 one- hour segments because they are wonderfully independent of one another. 'Runaway'
"Runaway" is Capital Cities Communications special report which takes a forthright look at the problem of some 1 million children who leave their homes each year searching for a better life -- and sometimes ending up as prostitutes on the streets of America's inner cities. Hosted by Robert MacNeil, this Christopher Jeans documentary handles its sensational material with taste and understanding, without either trivializing or over-dramatizing.
The special does not try to solve the problem, merely illuminate it. It does not try to create the illusion that it is possible to launch a war against broken and unhappy homes -- the obvious reason for much of the problem. What "Runaway" does with care and discrimination is present case histories and examples of what some organizations can do to alleviate the problem on the runaway's own level. On the home level, the program indicates that the solution must be left to individuals, to churches, to social organizations.
For runaways or potential runaways who see this independent production, at least there will be the knowledge that there are alternatives to street immorality. For casual viewers, "Runaway" offers an alternative TV documentary on a subject that has often been presented in bits and pieces on news shows or in melodramatic docu-dramas on network programs.
For the rest of the summer it will be necessary for inveterate TV viewers to keep their eyes on independent stations, PBS, and cable networks for relief from the viewing drudgery of network airing of "seconds."