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TV: Dramas based on LBJ and a Welty story. Not one jarring note in fine adaptation of Southern tale

By Arthur Unger / January 29, 1987



American Playhouse: The Wide Net PBS, Monday, 9-10 p.m. Stars: Barry Tubb, Kyra Sedgwick, Tim Ransom. Writer: Anthony Herrera, from a short story by Eudora Welty. Director: Anthony Herrera. Producers: Rachel McPherson and Marcus Viscidi. Literary works - regional short stories, in particular - too seldom find a place on television. But public television's superb anthology dramatic series, ``American Playhouse,'' is trying to change that.

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Its production of ``The Wide Net'' marks the first time anybody has dared to transpose a Eudora Welty story into TV drama.

The adaptation is so successful that I hope it is a harbinger of more Welty stories to come on TV - at least on public television.

Welty can be considered a Southern writer only because her stories are embued with the regionalism of her native Mississippi; her superbly crafted, sensitive stories have an astounding universality of character and insight. They somehow manage to distill real-life confrontations through a sublimely delicate sensibility. Thus Welty stories offer a considerable challenge to a medium not noted for subtlety of characterization or plot.

``The Wide Net'' is a simple tale of a young, newly married, rural couple, coming of age in their marriage as well as in society. Their playful, turbulent relationship turns poignant when the flirtatious wife threatens to jump in the river after her husband spends the night away from home.

After she disappears, his desperate but ambivalent search for her body, with the help of a band of cohorts, comprises the story line. The conclusion resolves nothing but forces viewers to ponder not only this relationship but the nature of human relationships, in general.

The teleplay and direction by Anthony Herrera are unobtrusively perfect. There is not one jarring note in this gem of a production. Even the country- music sound track, under the direction of Glenn Roven, seems exactly right. Shot in Mississippi by photography director Mikhail Suslov, ``The Wide Net'' exudes the sounds and smells of the region.

Barry Tubb as William and Kyra Sedgwick as Hazel play the love games of Welty's pair of child-adults with skill and utter believability.

This ``American Playhouse'' production proves there's a welcome place on American television for Welty and short story writers of her ilk - especially since such talented writers are so scarce. For a start, how about Mavis Gallant, Elizabeth Taylor, and Hortense Calisher? William drags the river in search of Hazel's body and uncovers not only catfish, crocodiles, and old shoes. Unknowingly, he also discovers a perfect electronic home for literate short stories.