Exploring that bigger-than-life Texas mystique

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Finally, PBS has a show which is almost as much of a hoot as ``Dallas.'' Lone Star (PBS, Sundays, 10-11 p.m., starting Dec. 15 for eight Sundays, check local listings) is ``Dallas'' with a straight face. Well, maybe the shot of series host Larry Hagman (J. R. Ewing in ``Dallas'') sitting at a desk decorated with a stuffed rattlesnake is just a little tongue-in-cheek.

``Lone Star'' is based on Texas historian T. R. Fehrenbach's book of the same title. Produced by KEDT-TV in Corpus Christi as part of the Texas Sesquicentennial (the 150th anniversary of the establishment of Texas as an independent republic in 1836), the series purports to present ``the grandeur and excitement of Texas.''

In the premi`ere episode, ``Living the Legend,'' the only one available at press time, the state's mystique is explored -- Texans' wildness, extravagance, exuberance, and sense of optimism.

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The show points out that the Texas mystique is actually an amalgam of truth, myth, and legend, with the movies as the most important force in establishing the stereotypes and then promoting them with singing cowboys, fearless Texas Rangers, Alamo heroes, cattle drives, and oil wildcatting. But, J. R. seems to be saying, the fact is that most of the stereotypes are based upon reality: Texans are brash, vibrant, brave, and enterprising, aren't they?

``Lone Star'' uses lots of film clips from old movies and doesn't hesitate to utilize talking heads, especially if they are the heads of Texas millionaires like H. L. Hunt, Glenn McCarthy, T. Boone Pickens, H. Ross Perot, Jimmy Dean, and John Tower.

``Lone Star'' is full of unembarrassed braggadocio as it probes its own mystique by fueling the fires of myth and stereotype. ``The quintessential Texan's basic virtue is that he's not afraid to stick his neck out and be wrong,'' explains one witness. ``In Texas that quality is enhanced by a society which appreciates it.''

``Lone Star'' may seem a bit redundant as it keeps photographing itself beautifully and describing itself in purple prairie prose. It ends by promising more about the land in Segment Two. But before that there is some fun footage of the activities of an actual group in Texas: ``The Great Wall Around Texas Society'' which wants to build, you guessed it, a great wall around Texas. Well, if China can do it. . . .

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