Preview of 'First Edition'; Provocative talk about books can make good viewing
How can viewers triumph over the summer TV doldrums? As the summer plays itself out, more and more readers tell me how disappointed they have been with the summer television fare - especially on the commercial networks, where viewers have been bombarded with failed series pilots and reruns of shows that were bad their first time around.
Reruns on PBS, however, have included some of the best-produced mini-series of the past year - ''A Town Like Alice,'' ''Brideshead Revisited,'' ''The Magic of Dance,'' ''The Flame Trees of Thika,'' ''Creativity,'' and (soon) ''Six Great Ideas.''
How to beat the system if reruns are not your idea of ideal summer viewing? Well, first thing to do is decide on alternate recreation - books and increased outdoor activity are the obvious answers. But first, you'd better get rid of that electronic temptress by either rolling the TV set into a closet or at least covering it up with the old piano shawl (whatever happened to piano shawls?).
Then acknowledge that just about the only summer TV shows worth watching have been the PBS repeat programs, the occasional news documentaries, the Tuesday Kuralt-Moyers back-to-back shows on CBS, and some of the performance programs on the free cultural cable ARTS channel.
But most ARTS programs, once again, are repeats during the summer. One of the most intellectually stimulating shows to be seen, ''First Edition'' (ARTS, most Fridays, 10:05-10:35 p.m.), which started airing in May on around 1,800 cable systems, is offering programs on a sporadic schedule right now but will have a regular weekly program, starting Friday, Sept. 9, with a John Updike interview.
I have just previewed the Sept. 16 show and found it a prime example of the kind of provocative programming you can find on ''First Edition.'' It is a potpourri study of books about power with co-hosts John Leonard and Nancy Evans interviewing Seymour Hersh, author of ''The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House.'' Then, Clifton Fadiman reviews Kissinger's own autobiography , and Nancy Evans reviews several books on what she terms ''power hungry'' people - examples here are John De Lorean and Mary Cunningham. Finally, John Leonard, a former New York Times book reviewer, reports on John Kenneth Galbraith's ''The Anatomy of Power.''
Mr. Hersh, who has been appearing on many TV talk shows, seems to be carrying on a personal vendetta against Mr. Kissinger, who, he believes, ''considers history a tool to be used and shaped as he needs it.'' Just about the kindest thing Mr. Hersh can find to say about Kissinger is that ''he is one of the greatest leaks of all time.''
Reviewer Clifton Fadiman, however, is more complimentary about Kissinger as a literary man who, according to Fadiman, has managed to overcome a double handicap: English is not his native language and his second language was that of diplomacy. ''As a stylist, a manipulator of the language, he (Kissinger) leaves far behind such fellow-memoirists as Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter,'' explains the caustic Mr. Fadiman. ''However, it's an easy win - the competition isn't very rough.''
Conceived and produced for Hearst/ABC's ARTS by the Book-of-the-Month Club, ''First Edition'' does not limit itself to BOMC authors. In recent programs it has featured Toni Morrison (''Tar Baby'') and Robert Caro (the Johnson biographies), as well as Jean Strouse (biographer of Alice James).
If you don't have cable, ARTS is a good reason to get it . . . for ''First Edition,'' especially. If you do have cable and your system does not carry ARTS, complain to the local system manager. You have the right to demand that the system carry this free culture channel. Closeup on cocaine
One of our most frustrating national problems is expertly focused on in an ''ABC News Closeup'' tomorrow. The Cocaine Cartel (Saturday, 10-11 p.m.) is a challenging piece of investigative journalism that pulls no punches as it points its finger at America's $34 billion-a-year cocaine ''fad,'' indulged in by, the documentary estimates, around 15 million Americans.
What makes this John Martin-directed, Stephen Fleischman-produced documentary so frustrating is that, although the facts are introduced - the criminals named and even acknowledged by Colombian and US authorities - the cocaine trade and the laundering of cocaine money continues unabated.
According to correspondents William Sherman and Bill Redeker, what we are now faced with is ''a cocaine cartel'' that is seriously disrupting the economy and having a negative sociological effect on the hard working people in both Colombia and the United States who earn their money legally and must compete with the enormous spoils of the criminal cocaine trade. What has emerged from it all is ''a new Mafia'' seemingly immune from serious prosecution.
''ABC News Closeup,'' under the aegis of senior producer Richard Richter and vice-president Pamela Hill, is probably the most innovative documentary division in network television today. Not all of its programs hit the mark, and too often they are just a bit jazzy in their presentation, but viewers can always depend upon a fascinating premise and an earnest, honest try to come up with all the right stuff.
In the case of ''Cocaine Cartel,'' ABC News has done some of its best work: There are shocking facts about ''respectable'' laundering of cocaine billions, interviews with some of the crime-family heads, on-camera confirmation from law enforcement officials, and even a rather gratuitous interview with Vice-President Bush, in which he takes an oddly optimistic view of the seemingly feeble US efforts to curb the cocaine trade in southern Florida. The documentary doesn't hesitate to track the criminals to their lairs, most often in Medellin, Colombia, called by Colombians ''the valley of orchids'' and by correspondent Sherman ''the cocaine capital of the world.''
If, as the ''The Cocaine Cartel'' states, cocaine is actually becoming ''the national vice of the '80s,'' doing great harm to our health, our morality, our economy, and our social structure, one hopes this daring, persuasive, and, yes, terrifying program will serve as the kickoff for new and bolder demands for international action. News, nice and good
As in the case of the weather, everybody talks about the ''bad news'' nature of television's evening newscasts, but nobody does anything about it. In almost all instances, the evening news is filled with crime, crises, and catastrophes.
Well, Atlanta's Ted Turner, owner of cable TV's free SuperStation WTBS and Cable News Network, has decided to do something about it. Sometimes called ''the mouth of the South,'' Mr. Turner has been heralding his Nice People show for the past year. It airs on Sunday (WTBS, 6:35-7:05 p.m., check local listings). Hosted by Mary Anne Loughlin, the show features kind and generous people who are involved in thoroughly ''nice'' activities . . . like saving orphaned seal pups, feeding hungry people, educating the poor, and so forth.
Now, starting Monday, Aug. 22 (WTBS, weekdays, 7:35-8:05 p.m. or 7:05-7:35 p.m., depending upon baseball games, check local listings) still another upbeat news show, Good News, will cover the ''positive, healthy, and creative side'' of human events with national and international news items gathered through CNN and hosted by Liz Wickersham.
Good luck, ''Good News.'' May your own success be your most positive story of the year.