The American Short Story' -- an electronic triump

One of American television's most prestigious series ever -- "The American Short Story" -- is returning to public television after two years of electronic triumps throughout the world.

The first series of nine dramatizations of classic and contemporary short stories aired in 1977 and went on to international acclaim in 43 foreign countries, including BBC II in Britain. Now, eight new dramatizations begin airing Monday ("The American Short Story," PBS, Monday,9-10 p.m., check local listings for premiere and repeats) And the signs are encouraging for a new era in literate TV entertainment.

Produced by Robert Geller for Learning in Focus Inc., funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, CPB, and Xerox, the second series premieres with a gracefully charming tale by Ring Lardner, "The Golden Honeymoon." Starring James Whitmore, There Wright, and Stephen Elliot, with a script by Frederic Hunter, directed by Noel black, his gentle story of the 50th wedding "honeymoon" of a New Jersey couple in Saint Petersburg, Fla., makes unobtrusive points about our society and the delicate balance which, the show suggests, constitutes all human relationships. Even 50 happy years can be interspersed with repressed bitterness which surcafes unexpectedly under certain conditions. In this case it is acknowledged and rejected in the perspective of overall love and understanding.

Written, acted, and directed with restraint, this period drama make no obviously big points, but scores on the levels it has chosen for itself. It is a subtle, wise, and entertaining moment in TV drama, worthy of silently catapulting this series into its own gloriously upward trajectory.

Host is the intelligently mellow Henry Fonda, introducing the story, setting the leisurely pace which is so important to the series, which will have a 13 -week run, featuring the eight new stories plus the nine previously aired dramatization.

Second in the new series, to air on Feb 18, will be James Thurber's "The Greatest Man in the world", followed by Nathaniel Hawthorne's "rappaccini's Daughter," Katherine anne Porter's "The Jilting of granny Weatherall," Ernest Gaine's "The Sky is Gray," Mark Twains "the man that Corrupted Hadleyburg." and William Faulkner's "Barn Burning." Then, starting March 24, the series will repeat the original nine stories by such writers as F. Scott Fitzgerald ernest Hemingway, Sherwood anderson Stephen crane, John Updike,etc.

"The American Short Story" past, present, and one hopes, future -- is scholarly, sedately glorious electronic literature; cherish it -- and perhaps it will flourish Mystery

High camp, low camp, horror and thriller -- viewers at starting Feb. 5: "mystery" (PBS, Tuesday, 9-10:30 p.m., check local listing for premiere and repeats.)

Hosted by the properly ominous Gene Shalit, "Today" show critic-punster, "mystery" promises 15 weeks of British whodidits (the king's English version of whodunits) ranging from the series premier "She Fell Among Thieves" with Eileen Atkins, Malcolm McDowell, a mountain castle, and lots of outrageously ridiculous folderol, adapted from Dornford yates's thriller. Director is Clive Donner and producer Mark Shivas, two top British figures who know how to tell a good story with tongue in both cheeks. So, shiver amid the chuckles.

Next in line is a four-part series, "Rumpole of the Bailey" dealing with an irascible criminal lawyer. All of the WGBH series feature opening titles by famed cloak-and- brush illustrator Edward Gorey.

"Mystery" -- promises to solve Tuesday night viewing problems for Margaret Rutherford fans who have yearned for the British thriller-chiller-giggle touch for the past few years.

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