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TV Relives Man's Walk on the Moon

Three varied specials marking the historic flight are all worth watching - especially the one on PBS, with astronauts remembering the impact of the event. TELEVISION: PREVIEW

By Arthur UngerSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor. Former Monitor television critic Arthur Unger is now special correspondent for Television Quarterly, the journal of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. / July 12, 1989


THE MOON ABOVE, THE EARTH BELOW. CBS, tomorrow, 9-11 p.m. MOONWALK: AS IT HAPPENED - 1969. A&E/cable, (in three parts) Sun., July 16, 9:20-11 a.m.; Thurs., July 20, 10:30 p.m.-2 a.m.; Mon., July 24, 1:30-3:30 p.m. THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MOON. PBS, Wed. July 19, 8-10:30 p.m. (check local listings). BETWEEN 1967 and 1972, there were 36 Apollo astronauts who reached for the moon. Some made it to walk among the craters; others hovered in space awaiting a return flight to Earth; three were killed in a lunch pad tragedy. All earned a hallowed place in a select heirarchy of space heroes.

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There deeds are remembered. But the effect of instant universal acclaim upon these men and their families has seldom been considered.

Although most of the names are now vague memories or ancient history to the last two decades of Americans, July 20, 1969 - the day Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin of Apollo 11 landed on the moon - is a date few Americans over 30 will ever forget - or will citizens of the world for that matter, as 500 million people on Earth watched.

Now television, which some people believe really came of age with the moon walk, is remembering its own day of maturity, the nation's day of glory, the astronauts' moment of fulfillment of man's great lunar dream.

While all of the network news progrms and most local news shows will pay tribute to the first moon landing with segments on regularly scheduled programming - like the morning, dinner-hour, and late-night news shows - there is very special programs on CBS, the Arts and Entertainment cable channel, and PBS. These three specials differ in approach, technique, and attitude.

All are worth watching, but if you can manage to watch only one, it should be the PBS program - ``The Other Side of the Moon'' - which delves deepest and comes up with the most meaningful overview. `The Moon Above, The Earth Below'

Through the commentary of Dan Rather, CBS relives not only the actual footage of the take-off, landing, walks, and return flight, but some of the until-now unreported doubts and fears.

Through the commentary of Charles Kuralt and other CBS News staffers, we also learn what went on in the good old USA while the lunar landing was happening. Perhaps veteran executive producer Perry Wolff overestimates just a bit the level of interest in mundane events around the country. This viewer became impatient time and again for a return to the major event of the day - the landing on the moon. We can see horse farms and sunsets anytime, but a lunar walk makes everything else pale into at least temporary insignificance.

Despite its over-concentration on A Day in the Life of the USA, CBS News's show has all the elements necessary for a fine retrospective. It even includes some shocking information - that the technology for a moon landing has been allowed to lapse, and we would have to start all over again if we were to try for the moon today.

What I missed most, however, was ``Mr. Space Program''' himself, Walter Cronkite.

His role and his appearances on the show have been downplayed, apparently to allow current CBS News personalities to take center stage.