PBS spices up summer programming
If you've been planning to roll your TV set into the closet in anticipation of commercial television's summer doldrums, better hold off for a few more weeks. Public Broadcasting Service is coming up with a kind of special summer picnic of superior TV fare this week to counteract the reruns and failed pilots that the networks are serving up ad nauseam.
''Wilderness is part of our character as Americans,'' says William Devane, host/narrator/co-writer of a lyrical documentary on the same subject, wilderness , ''and now more than ever Americans are searching for it.''
Wilderness Journal (PBS, Tuesday, 10-11 p.m., check local listings for premiere and repeats) follows actor William Devane on his trek of discovery through wilderness areas in California, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, and Nevada. It shares his new experiences with the viewers as he climbs rocks, navigates white water, and invades grizzly territory. Although such a documentary tends to be elitist as it makes its pro-wilderness points, Devane also talks with some people who want to share the wilderness with industry and developers.
Basically ''Wilderness Journal'' is a loving paean to untouched landscapes, photographed with awe-inspired tenderness by Ron Eveslage, all to the sound of a nature-inspired music track by the Paul Winter Quartet.
The film is destined to become a classic in its field, a sure prizewinner for producer-director Stephen Fisher, who made the film in association with KCET/Los Angeles.
'JFK - A One Man Show'
The irreverent B.J. Hunnicutt of M*A*S*H contributes a tour-de-force performance to a tour-de-force political entertainment about John F. Kennedy.
JFK: A One Man Show (PBS, Wednesday, June 20, 9-10:30 p.m., check local listings for premiere and repeats) stars Mike Farrell as Kennedy, complete with authentic accent, mannerisms, dress, and even appearance.
The program is skillfully and sensitively written by David and Sidney Carroll despite just a bit too great dependence on mimicry over characterization. Farrell manages to hold viewers for 90 minutes of Kennedy myth and legend as he chronicles both the personal and political life of JFK and his family. There is the strength and humor of JFK as well as the vanity and weakness. It is an attempt to give a balanced portrait of a President who, as host Walter Cronkite says, ''loved every minute of the job.''
''JFK'' may unnerve some viewers as it switches from a JFK during his lifetime to a JFK who looks back at his own times from the perspective of history. And 90 minutes, perhaps, may be a bit too much of the same thing for non-JFK admirers. But JFK partisans will enjoy every moment of it.
In 1917 the first woman to be elected to the United States Congress was Jeannette Rankin of Montana. In 1917 she voted ''no'' against American entry into World War I. Then, again in 1941, she voted ''no'' against US entry into World War II.
Jeannette Rankin: The Woman Who Voted No (PBS, Wednesday, June 20, 10:30-11 p.m., check local listings for premiere and repeats) tells the story of this peace crusader through newsreels, film clips, and photographs. Her second ''no'' was considered treasonous by many, and it ended her political career. She spent the next 25 years teaching children what she called ''peace habits'' and in the 1960s led several thousand women in a peace march in Washington. Until her death in 1973 she remained a major spokeswoman for the peace movement.
Now, finally, this unique individual is being recognized for what she was: a dedicated, conscientious woman. ''Jeannette Rankin,'' produced and directed by Ronald Bayly and Nancy Landgren, is a fine - if delayed - tribute to the memory of a woman who, even nearly 67 years after her first ''no'' vote, remains a controversial figure in contemporary US history.
If visions of ''The Forsyte Saga'' dance in your head when you hear of a nine-part dramatization of ''Buddenbrooks'' - Thomas Mann's classic novel about the rise and fall of a wealthy merchant family in 19th-century Germany - you are in for some disorientation, not to mention disappointment.
Buddenbrooks (PBS, Monday, 8 p.m. through Aug. 13; already premiered in some cities, but check local listings for repeats) is a long, lush, Teutonic soap opera, ponderously climbing the geneological tree of the Buddenbrook family of Lubeck, Germany. Naturally, since this German prizewinning novel was filmed by Germans in Germany for Germans, the cast of characters speak German. ''Great Performances,'' which is presenting the series, has attempted to aid American viewers by dubbing in English. So throughout the series, as one watches the total lack of lip synchronization, there is a feeling that Senor Wences (the English actor-ventriloquist) lurks somewhere in the background, ventriloquizing badly.
However, if you can overcome the dubbing and the ponderosity, after a few hours the series starts to come to life. As somebody who long ago plodded his way through the book, I found the same kind of payoff in the TV miniseries: At the end one comes to feel he knows the characters, the era, and the milieu intimately. It's just that getting there is a bit less than half the fun.