PBS presents another peerless season of TV
''This 1984-85 schedule is the coming-of-age schedule for PBS,'' says Sue Weil, PBS senior vice-president for programming. ''We have been building this one for a long time,'' she tells me. ''Our roots are in education, and every time we can present a prime-time series with a major adult-educational component, I feel we are fulfilling what we were put here to do. And our new schedule is full of such series.''
Ms. Weil says this schedule might be ''the best ever . . . and that's saying a lot because last year we had the acclaimed Vietnam series. How do you top that?''
Here are the new series (and a few returning ones) with which PBS is trying to top that. Most start in late September, early October, or in the winter. They are not listed in order of their debuts because some starting dates are still to be determined. In most cases continuing series that follow recognized patterns are not included.
''The Brain'' is an eight-part documentary series scheduled to start in October with major funding from the Annenberg/CPB Project. Narrated by host George Page, it will be a comprehensive investigation of the human brain, including the latest discoveries and applications of behavioral science.
''Wonderworks,'' will try to put family togetherness back into TV viewing. It is a 26-week series of drama, comedy, and animated films, not merely aimed at youngsters but at the whole family.
''Israeli Ambassador Abba Eban,'' is a nine-part epic series chronicling 3, 000 years of Jewish history as seen within the context of Western civilization. Locations all over the world were utilized. There will be a wide-ranging outreach program of books, telecourses, and school materials.
Says Mr. Eban about the series: ''Jews are a tiny segment of the human race - 14 million out of 3.5 billion - yet it is one of the (world's) mysteries why so small a group has had such a resonance in history.'' The series will try to solve that mystery.
''American Playhouse'' remains the only weekly anthology drama series on American television, and it begins its fourth season with ''Testament,'' a highly controversial film about survival after a nuclear holocaust. The film earned an Academy Award nomination this past year. A new production of Tennessee Williams's ''Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'' with Jessica Lange and Tommy Lee Jones is also on the schedule.
''Masterpiece Theatre'' is an old standby which, of course, will be back, premiering with a two-parter, ''The Barchester Chronicles.'' In December, however, the series will start the most anticipated new show of the year on either commercial or public television - ''Jewel in the Crown.'' It is a 14-part adaptation of ''The Raj Quartet'' and has already been hailed in Britain as better than ''Brideshead Revisited.''
''Great Performances'' will also continue its tradition of unusual programming. This 12th season will include a dramatization of Virginia Woolf's ''To the Lighthouse,'' with Rosemary Harris; ''Pagliacci'' and ''Cavalliera Rusticana,'' with Placido Domingo; ''Rigoletto,'' with Luciano Pavarotti; ''An Evening With Judy Garland''; and the TV version of the recently acclaimed Broadway production of ''You Can't Take It With You.''
''On the Money'' is a 13-part series that explores all aspects of personal and family money management, developed in association with Money magazine.
''Mystery'' will return with still another delightful ''Rumpole'' (six-part) series and will include a new Agatha Christie miniseries.
''The Constitution: That Delicate Balance'' returns with a 13-part series taped at Congress Hall in Philadelphia. Each session concerns a hypothetical situation involving the Constitution in which rights clash with responsibilities. Top national figures take part in this series, produced by the ''Media and Society'' seminars of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
''From the American Film Institute'' is an innovative half-hour series highlighting the work of some of tomorrow's potentially great filmmakers making their national debuts, produced at the AFI Center for Advanced Film Studies.
''Congress: We the People'' promises to disclose how Congress works by taking viewers right inside the halls of the US Capitol.
''Child Sexual Abuse: What Your Children Should Know'' is a five-part community-outreach program, clearly of great potential value to parents of young children.
''The Voyage of the Mimi'' is a 13-part late-afternoon science series aimed at young people.
''Live From Lincoln Center'' begins its ninth season with a two-hour live concert celebrating the 300th birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach. The season will also include a new version of ''Carmen'' and a two-hour gala celebrating the 25 th anniversary of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
''Adam Smith's Money World'' is about high finance and George J. W. Goodman is host and chief correspondent with the inside story on the outside chance of making money in the stock market.
''The Shakespeare Plays'' enters its seventh and final season to complete its presentation of all 37 of the Bard's dramatic works. This season will feature ''Much Ado About Nothing,'' ''King John,'' ''Titus Andronicus,'' and ''Love's Labor Lost.''
''The Living Planet: A Portrait of the Earth,'' narrated by David Attenborough, is a sequel to his recent ''Life On Earth'' series. This 12-part BBC production traces earth's geological cycles, showing the planet as it has developed over the millenniums. It seems to take science programming one step beyond ''Nova.''
Returning with new segments will be such successful series as ''Nova,'' ''Nature,'' ''Smithsonian World, ''National Geographic Specials,'' ''The New Tech Times,'' ''The McNeil/Lehrer Newshour,'' ''Frontline,'' and ''Newton's Apple.''
Based upon discussions with many PBS producers and programmers, it is quality not quantity that most concerns PBS - quality in both programming and audience numbers.
Although PBS draws more than 90 million persons per week, that is only a small percentage of those who tune in to the commercial networks. But PBS viewers tend to be selective, and the programs offered them tend to be attuned to inquisitive, nonparochial minds - people searching for revelation, self-improvement, and knowledge mixed in with their entertainment. And the 1984- 85 fall-winter PBS season seems to be a prime example of that blend.
So, if you've been complaining about the preponderance of mindless entertainment on commercial television and cable's lack of expected substitutes, bear in mind that there still exists a peerless alternative: PBS.