'With Ossie & Ruby': full of creative surprises

Minority programming on TV doesn't have to mean a round table around which a black moderator discusses the contemporary problems of blacks in our society. For something truly unusual, try tuning in to a new series titled "With Ossie & Ruby," (PBS, Saturdays 7:30-8 p.m., check local listings for premiere and repeats, since many local stations plan to place the show on other days in other time periods).

The show stars Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee in a kind of intellectual vaudeville show, featuring music, literature, poetry, comedy, and drama, all held together by the adhesive of the amazingly varied talents of a husband-and-wife team as full of creative surprises as America's other famous theatrical husband-and-wife team, Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn.

I have previewed the first two of the innovative 13-week series, which were conceived and hosted by Ossie and Ruby, and found them to be a delight, a reaction you may share, but only if Miss Dee and Mr. Davis are special favorites , because there is a lot of them. Give a couple of talented actors a chance to focus the spotlight and chances are the spotlight will be turned toward the mirror.

In the first of the series, they are off screen only long enough to allow Della Reese to sing a couple of songs. The fascinating theme of the show is spelled out in the opening scene, in which Ruby and Ossie are eating at a Chinese restaurant and the fortune cookie says, "Life is. . . ." The Rest of the show is an amusing search through such creative talents as Langston Hughes, Longfellow, and Yip Harburg to find the answer. Along the way there may be just a bit too much of a sometimes incomprehensible monologue in a Caribbean accent for some tastes, including mine.

But the show, despite its obvious specific ethnicity, has a marvelous naive charm mixed with supersophistication which makes it unlike anything else on the air today. It should be experienced.

The second in the series, titled "Two From Langston," is a skillful dramatization of two short stories by Hughes, the writer. Actors Robert and Kevin hooks join the hosts in what is once again the ethnically specific (black, that is) dramatizations. There is also a universality in the theme, however, which moves it beyond blackness.

"With Ossie & Ruby" is a series worth seeking out, so better call your local PBS station to find out exactly when and if it plans to air it. It is not often these days that diverse creative talents -- black or white -- get an opportunity to brin g their talent to the television screen seemingly intact.

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