New York — A documentary about a family supposedly worth $8 billion can't miss. But "Just Plain Folks -- The Billionaire Hunts" (NBC, Saturday, 10-11 p.m., check local listings) almost manages to miss. It is saved by its fascinating subject matter.
You have probably read newspapers stories about "Silver Thursday," the day in March 1980 when the silver pit of the commodity exchange almost succumbed to hysteria as the Hunt family allegedly tried to corner the world's supply of silver -- and was caught short. Well, this is supposedly an expansion of those reports, but what narrator Edwin Newman calls the "aggressive privacy" of the Hunt family has prevented producer Tom Tomizawa from obtaining much more than scattered information from competitors, regulators, critics.
The brothers themselves, except for a few newsreel shots, photos, and bland interviews, prefer to remain as anonymous as possible for a family in their position.
Says one of Hunts -- off camera as is the case with most of the pungent quotes in this show: "I want to stay out of deals less than $100 million in order to keep the shoe clerks out. . . ." But the Hunts apparently like to think of themselves as "just plain folks," never revealing their enormous wealth by carrying much of it with them, riding in buses rather than limosines, making very few shows of philanthropy. In some circles all that might be considered penurious, but when you've got $8 billion to back it up. . . .
"The Billionaire Hunts" is basically a glorified slide show which rehashes material already on the record. There is very little in the way of explanation -- but if you are bold, ambitious, powerful, rich, and also private, perhaps the last thing you want to reveal is an explanation of how you got that way. NBC tries -- and fails v aliantly but entertainingly.