Hardly a Remington portrait; Bucking bronco of a show on the Texas legislature

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If it comes as a surpirse to you that deals and compromises are the order of the day in most state legislatures, then "The Best Little Statehouse in Texas" (CBS, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 8-9 p.m., check on local listings) will be startlingly revelatory for you.

If you are aware that democracy sometimes moves in unusual ways, this documentary, hosted by playwright Larry L. King, will prove to be a bucking bronco of a show -- amusing, sometimes frightening, but in the long run manageable.

What might have been a dull look at the way state laws evolve has been turned into a pragmatic, but always watchable, entertainment. Mainly responsible is the host, Larry King, who emerges as the most interesting character on the screen.

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Produced by Philip Burton Jr. under the aegis of executive producer Howard Stringer, "The Best Little Statehouse" wears an ambivalent Stetson. Texan King, who also wrote the script, paints a hardly Remingtonian portrait of a wheeling, dealing legislature which "makes mistakes, cuts deals, and reaches its own handy compromises . . . the needs and desires of the people may not always get top priority."

But then Mr. King goes on to point the finger at us as well. "Perhaps my Texans are a bit more colorful," he says, "but the process, alas, is much the same in your state and in your neighbor's."

Good-natured cynicism runs rampant in this hard-hitting documentary -- Mr. King may not prove to be the most popular man in his native state after it airs. But it's hard to fault a native curmudgeon who says what he obviously believes, even if he does shoot from the hip. Highbrow radio drama

TV's new cultural cable channels may be getting competition from a totally unexpected source -- radio.

An eight-hour serialization of "The Odyssey of Homer" will be debuting on more than 300 commercial and public radio stations during the week of Oct. 18 Prime mover behind the project is producer-director Yuri Rasovsky, with the help of the National Endowment for the Humanities and underwriter TRW (formerly an underwriter of PBS's "Nova").

I talked with Mr. Rasovsky recently and he insisted that early reports of the demise of radio are premature. "Radio is basically a visual medium," he said. "It forces the listener -- who is actually the ultimate receiver -- to create images in his own mind. Radio is the most participatory medium because it insists that the listener provide the missing visual element."

A cartoonist by trade, Mr. Rasovsky grew up in the slums of Chicago where he listened to all the old radio serials in his youth. According to him, for some unknown reason Chicago has become the major center in this country for "fine arts broadcasting." His own National Radio Theater of Chicago, for instance, has attracted hundreds of thousands of listeners to uncompromising "egghead" productions on Chicago's WFMT.

Why has he chosen "Homer's Odyssey" to launch a series of radio dramas, which will also eventually include "The Emperor Jones," "Cyrano de Bergerac," and "A Tale of Two Cities" among others?

"Ulysses is the archetype returnee, isn't he?" he asked and then answered for himself. "I returned from the Vietnam war and found I was a nonperson, just as was the case more or less with Ulysses."

What does Rasovsky have in mind as a future project?

"I want to stay in radio -- it is the most fulfilling medium for someone like myself. But I'd like to do a book of 'The Greatest Radio Plays.' I'd like to put it out as a book, as a record, as a radio broadcast. And I'd also like to do 'Peer Gynt' with the Chicago Symphony."

Yuri Rasovsky believes in radio but at the same time he believes that "the future of radio drama lies in nonbroadcast use of broadcast materials." He dreams of "Listening Places" where the listening environment can be controlled. "We now play to one listener at a time -- the future will see us playing to large groups of listeners in one place."

Meantime, he indicates he will be satisfied to reach a few million listeners with his new National Radio Theater series, one at a time.

So those who have assumed, despite some fine programming on National Public Radio, that radio has become an anachronism in this television age, had better listen to Yuri Rasovsky. Better yet, listen to his radio programs. Is there a dish in your future?

Dr. William M. Smith, a psychology professor at Dartmouth College and director of instructional services and educational research, dropped by the office the other day. Dr. Smith, currently at work putting the World Book Encyclopedia on laser discs, believes that current advances in electronic technology are only the first steps toward much more complex technologies.

According to the professor, within five years or so many American TV viewers will be receiving satellite signals with their own dish (receiver) on their own roofs.

Even now dishes large enough to receive satellite signals are coming way down in price. Video magazine advertisements now offer discs for just a few thousand dollars, down from more than $30,000 only a few years ago.

However, if you are a do-it-yourself, the new Heathkit catalog (from Heathkit , Benton Harbor, Mich.) features a satellite earth station kit for around $7,000 .

Well, there's always radio. . . .

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