Television celebrates the spirit of America
America, the Statue of Liberty, and America's place in the world are an important part of television programming during the next few weeks. ''Summer Sunday, USA,'' NBC's new news show, begins with a focus on Americana. The show is scheduled for TV's ''instant death'' spot - opposite CBS's ''60 Minutes'' - on Sundays at 7 p.m., starting July 1.
''It's a summer romance for me,'' says Linda Ellerbee, co-anchor with Andrea Mitchell of the show, which premieres Sunday, live from Washington, D.C. ''I'm having so much fun,'' she says by telephone from her office in Washington. Both Ms. Ellerbee and Ms. Mitchell have been warding off negative early publicity which indicated that the show would be an entertainment news show, a fluffy magazine-type ''reality'' program. ''It's no more a magazine show than 'Nightline' is or 'Overnight News' was,'' she insists defensively.
Ms. Ellerbee is still very proud of her much-acclaimed role as co-anchor of ''NBC Overnight News,'' the award-winning early-morning news show that earned critical approval but lost a great deal of money for NBC before it was yanked from the air a few months ago. The show catapulted this nine-year TV news veteran into the limelight as a leading electronic news personality with just about the No. 1 writing talent in the field.
''The only similarity with 'Overnight,' '' she adds, ''is that I wrote what I said on that show and I will be writing whatever I say on this show. I don't intend to stop speaking my piece.'' Those Ellerbee pieces constituted the pungent, outspoken core of ''Overnight.''
How will ''Summer Sunday, USA'' - the first public evidence of the innovative thinking of the new NBC News president, Lawrence Grossman - differ from other news shows?
''Since we premiere on July 1, it is close enough to July 4 to give the first show an Americanism theme, so let me tell you about that. It will have a sequence in which Gary Hart confronts three reporters who covered his campaign. The second show will allow Jesse Jackson the same pleasure.
''Another regular segment will allow two people with very different opinions to confront each other. On the premiere it will be George McGovern and James Watt, squaring off on how they define patriotism in 1984. That doesn't sound like entertainment, does it?
''Then, in 'Voice of the People,' we'll bypass the world's leaders to get some views on what everyday people are really thinking - we'll interview people in Moscow's Gorky Park and Los Angeles's Griffith Park.''
Other segments include an ''NTV'' segment, a kind of news video putting people in the news to music; a segment on this week's and next week's news; and 'Behind the News,' on which NBC News correspondents show how they cover the news and how the issues they report affect us.
''There will be live reports from Tokyo, Paris, and London on foreign attitudes toward the US and an interview with the Chinese tennis star who defected. The first show is mostly live from Washington, and in future weeks it will be live from North Carolina, San Francisco and Houston for the conventions, Los Angeles for the Olympics, Woodstock, N.Y., for the anniversary of Woodstock, and Baltimore for a show about cities.
''And, of course, there will be my own essay. Couldn't not have that.''
How does Ms. Ellerbee feel about airing opposite the seemingly unbeatable '' 60 Minutes''?
She laughs the hearty Ellerbeee laugh which viewers of ''Overnight News'' have come to understand usually precedes some unflinching observation. ''I'm not concerned at all. Because in nine weeks we will be off the air. That means we can do new things. Some are bound to fail. But the stakes are not that high if they don't work. After all, there's no plan to graduate into 'Winter Wednesday.' ''
So what happens to Linda Ellerbee after the nine weeks?
''I've signed a new contract, so I'll probably go back and do pieces on the 'Nightly News' again.''
What would make ''Summer Sunday, USA'' a success as far as she is concerned?
''If we can try some new techniques and new ways of delivering news that next year might turn up on the 'Nightly News' or on 'Today.' That would make it worthwhile for me.
''If we can follow through with my basic feeling that you don't talk down to the audience. I feel very strongly about that. Network TV has dismissed the intelligence of the audience for years. But the audience is just as smart as we are. 'Overnight' bore that out. The news as a kind of Sermon on the Mount has got to go. ''Listen,'' she interrupts herself laughingly, ''we're already a success when we can manage to get James Watt and the Beachboys together on the premiere of 'Summer Sunday.' The Washington politicians couldn't get them together on the Mall, but we got them on the same show.'' Statue of Liberty
Independence Day and the Statue of Liberty have become intertwined in the minds of most Americans, and television continues the mixture this year - especially since we are approaching the 100th birthday of the lady of Liberty. Here are some of the special anniversary programs scheduled to begin tomorrow:
* The Pursuit of Happiness (PBS, Saturday, June 30, 10-11 p.m.) is this patriotic season's most extraordinary video documentary, an incisive study of six people seeking their inalienable right to happiness. Documentarians Julie Gustafson and John Reilly have interwoven the lives of real people, drawn subtle analogies, and pinpointed inconsistencies and natural growth patterns in America through intimate portraits of some fascinatingly ''average'' human beings. It is uniquely celebratory television and, if you feel you have to choose only one Fourth-of-July program to watch, there is no question that this is the one you will never forget.
* Evening at Pops: John Williams Strikes Up the Band With Fourth of July Extravaganza (PBS, Wednesday, July 4, 8-9:30 p.m.) kicks off the 1984 Pops season with a live broadcast of the traditional Pops Independence Day Concert at the Charles River Esplanade, Boston, featuring selections by Sousa, Brahms, and Leroy Anderson as well as an audience sing-along. The evening's highlight will be a performance of Tchaikovsky's ''1812 Overture'' accompanied by church bells, cannon shots, and fireworks.
* A Capitol Fourth/1984 (PBS, Wednesday, July 4, 9:30-11 p.m.) will feature the National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich, in a special Fourth of July concert from the West Lawn of the US Capitol. Robert Merrill will be guest baritone. You can expect everything from Rodgers's ''Guadalcanal March'' and ''God Bless America'' to ''The Stars and Stripes Forever.''
* The Last Full Measure (PBS, Saturday, July 7, 10-10:30 p.m.) commemorates the 121st anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the turning point of the Civil War. This Kerwin Silfies special from WLVT, Pennsylvania, with Stacy Keach as host and Bruce Catton as historian-guide, using old photographs, woodcuts, paintings, and contemporary cinematography, manages to place Gettysburg in the perspective of history.
* Salute to Lady Liberty (CBS, Sunday, July 8, 8-10 p.m.) is a variety extravaganza featuring entertainers from stage, screen, television, and music in a fond tribute to the statue that will celebrate its 100th birthday in 1986. Efforts are under way right now to restore her original splendor.
Segments taped all over the United States and the rest of the world will feature such varied personalities as Kirk Douglas, Menudo, the Osmond family, Kenny Rogers, Ray Charles, Brooke Shields, Ben Vereen, and the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. Would you also believe the publisher of Mad magazine? Oh well, give me your tired, your hungry . . . your way out.
(Check local times on all programs, especially those on PBS.) American portraits
CBS will celebrate the statue's centennial with a series of 130 one-minute salutes to the accomplishments of lesser-known citizens throughout the nation's history, it was announced recently by Thomas F. Leahy, CBS/Broadcast Group executive vice-president.
According to Mr. Leahy - who gives credit for the idea for the series to CBS/Broadcast Group president Eugene Jankowski - starting in late September and continuing through the actual 100th anniversary on Oct. 28, 1986, CBS will use the 8:58-8:59 time slot every weekday evening to tell the stories of individual Americans who struggled to fulfill a personal dream - in all cases a dream that has enriched us all.
The series, An American Portrait, will have major entertainment figures as hosts. Already announced to appear are Ed Asner, Milton Berle, Jane Fonda, Richard Chamberlain, Gregory Peck, Neil Diamond, and Danny Kaye. Other stars who may take part are Barbra Streisand, Katharine Hepburn, Lena Horne, and Robert Redford.
''The focus will be on rarely celebrated heroes, people with whom most of us are unfamiliar, people who nevertheless left a special mark on some aspect of American life,'' Mr. Leahy said. ''They will come from every segment of American society - from immigrants to Indians to ethnic minorities, both historical and contemporary.''
Here are a few of the American portraits: Emma Lazarus, who wrote the words on the statue's base; Rosa Parks, who started the Montgomery, Ala., civil rights movement by refusing to sit in the back of the bus; Korczak Ziolkowski, who built the world's largest sculpture - a monument to Sioux chief Crazy Horse in South Dakota; Linn Yann, a Cambodian refugee who won this year's National Spelling Bee; Henry Bergh, who helped found the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1866; Andy Lipkis, a modern-day Johnny Appleseed; and Pauline Newman, one of the organizers of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1901.