`Explorer' Gems Make TV Irresistible

TELEVISION: PREVIEW

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORER: GREATEST MOMENTS TBS (cable), Sunday, 9-11 p.m. (check local listings). Host Bob Ballard. Repeats May 7, 12:45-2:45 a.m., and May 12, 8:05-10:05 a.m. RECIPE: Take one part Indiana Jones, and add equal measures of Jacques Cousteau, Sir Edmund Hilary, and Marlin Perkins. Toss lightly with pinch of Lewis and Clark. Serve on hot, sleepy afternoon, when viewer's eyelids are heavy. Rejuvenates enthusiasm about the strengths of the TV medium.

The highlights assembled from ``National Geographic Explorer's'' first five seasons are so compelling and winningly selected that I'm pretty sure I didn't blink in 120 minutes. This in the middle of an afternoon when the couch looked far more inviting than one more preview tape.

I am reminded of a battery commercial where a macho actor dares his viewer to knock the battery off his shoulder. My version? I dare you to try to watch just part of this special. You can't do it.

Not with shots of Christmas Island, swarming with millions of scarlet crabs twice the size of tarantulas - making walking, biking, driving, even golf nearly impossible.

Or with that cave of bats two-hundred per square foot in an area the size of a couple of football fields. What do they do when you shine a light? Whhooooa!

And isn't that the Titanic, seen for the first time after 74 years, with a chandelier still hanging in perfect condition?

Aren't those guys snow skiing with kayaks?

Okay, but let's pop out to the kitchen for a - wait, is that woman strapping a fish to her arm so the shark can test the steel mesh suit she's wearing?

That bicycle messenger's not really riding the wrong way up Fifth Avenue, is he?

Look, those are the mangrove swamps of Borneo. The painted warriors are actually women making faces to attract their mates?

And so it went for me one recent afternoon. Skeleton digs at Mt. Vesuvius. Diving for Peruvian gold on sunken Spanish galleons. Fearless Mohawk Indians prancing atop skyscraper girders.

Hang-gliders, sky divers, tornado chasers, aircraft carriers - just the best of the best.

These ``greatest moments'' are culled from more thasn 500 films presented on ``Explorer'' since 1985. The series has been an important outlet for some of the world's most accomplished nontheatrical filmmakers and has been a one of TV's most prolific showcase for documentary films.

Remember what television means, a media guru once told me: ``Seeing far.'' It exists because we want to know how it looks and sounds and feels to be everywhere. As such, this might just be the best use of the device around. Escapist? You bet!

Is it really that compelling?

Only if you want to get excited about the world we live in, nature, creative photography, sport, exotic animals, humans, and the unbound wonder of existence.

(And stop bleating about all the hokum and bluster on TV.)

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