George Page wants television to peer deeper into science

The man responsible for two top science series doesn't believe that this field is getting a fair shake on American television. George Page, director of arts and sciences programming for WNET/New York, functions as host and narrator for ''Nature'' (PBS, Sundays, 8-9 p.m., check local listings) and as on-air reporter for ''The Brain'' (PBS, Wednesdays, 8-9 p.m., check local listings), two of public television's most acclaimed science programs.

In an interview over a sushi lunch, he said: ''I think there's a great lack of time devoted to science on television. In commercial TV, for example, they have competent people doing small segments on the nightly news occasionally. But that's all they have time for. There's no opportunity to go into anything in great depth. There are occasional exceptions like ''The Body Human,'' but even (Walter) Cronkite couldn't stay on the air on a regular basis with ''Universe.''

''Even on PBS where we have such series as ''Nova'' and ''Nature'' and ''The Brain,'' we haven't gone overboard yet. Although historically nature and wildlife films have been among the most popular programs on public television, there's a lot more to do.''

Now in its third season, ''Nature'' has just signed an agreement with BBC's Natural History Unit to create and develop original programming. In the past most of the series films have been acquired from sources around the world. Mr. Page says that in the future he plans to air many more ''Nature'' originals.

''The Face of the Deep,'' which airs Sunday, Oct. 28, explores wildlife in the thick seaweed of the Sargasso Sea, 2,000 miles west of the Canary Islands. ''Nature'' obtained this unique film from Oxford Scientific Films/Anglia Television, which had to create spherical filming chambers with current control ports and snorkel periscopes to catch the biological specimens in their natural habitat. On the following Sunday the series will repeat one of the most extraordinary films in its repertoire, ''Voices in the Forest,'' one of last season's great successes which focuses on the interrelationship of the natives of Papua New Guinea and the near-extinct bird of paradise.

Still exhilarated from his recent total immersion in the production of ''The Brain,'' Mr. Page believes there is a continuing need for limited series on particular scientific areas that are of importance to the human race. ''Now we are looking into the possibility of a series on psychiatry and a series on healing,'' he added.

''The Brain'' is basically a series of reports on what science knows and doesn't know about the brain. Mr. Page makes it clear that he came out of ''The Brain'' series with a greater sense of wonderment, ''a tremendous sense of awe that anything as complex - capable of such wonders as the Pyramids and the computer and Mozart - could exist naturally. I'm not sure I can translate it into religious or philosophical terms, but I certainly ended up with tremendous respect for whatever the forces are that are involved in the creation of anything as extraordinary as a human being.''

What does he hope the series will do for its audiences?

''My secret hope is that this series will have for the audience the kind of impact that working on the series had for me: it changed the way that I perceive myself as a human being. '' Mariette Hartley and teen suicide

Teen-age suicide is a subject that has only recently come out of the closet - and perhaps too much so, since teen-agers are notoriously impressionable.

Officials estimate that there are more than 400,000 suicide attempts by teen-agers each year and between 5,000 and10,000 are fatal. Until recently, however, the subject was simply not discussed openly. The reasons? Deference to the parents involved, discretion of the authorities, and fear that too much publicity might result in copycat suicides.

With the recent rash of what police call ''teen suicide clusters,'' the subject has, for better or worse, come out into the open. Teen suicide hotlines are being formed in some communities, and newspapers and magazines are publishing articles about the phenomenon. And, of course, television - always on the lookout for relevant dramatic material - has snapped up the teen-suicide subject.

CBS has already aired one daytime drama about it; ABC has a drama waiting in the wings. Next week, Silence of the Heart (CBS, Tuesday, 9-11 p.m.) jumps right into the midst of the problem with the sad tale of a suicide by the seemingly happy son in an upper-middle class home. Despite its tendency to find pat solutions and its melodramatic story line, the film is moving and relevant.

Star of the film is Mariette Hartley, a fine Emmy-award actress best known recently for her part as James Garner's wife in Polaroid commercials. In an interview, Miss Hartley told me that the subject is a very difficult one for her , since her own father committed suicide.

But she resents any implication that the film is exploitive. ''It's something that needed to be done, and even though it was difficult for me because of my father, I felt I had to do it. Suicide is something that exists in the hearts and minds of many families at some time, but most families won't talk about it. They should.''

She believes the film can perform a major function in preventing teen suicides. ''My main hope is that 'Silence of the Heart' will help to break that silence. It's so important to share feelings. Parents need to know that they must find ways to show love and affection for their teen-agers.'' In the film she plays the mother of a youngster who is faced with what seem to him to be overwhelming problems - low SAT scores, rejection by a girl he fancies, and inability to live up to the expectations of his father. A fine cast portrays the family sensitively. Only the role of the younger sister seems to be written as too wise for the age group.

But it is Miss Hartley's picture all the way through. Her portrait of a kind and loving but somehow unaware mother may alert many parents to the perils that may be lurking under the surface of their children's seeming happiness. After the suicide, in one superb scene after another, Miss Martley manages to capture the sadness, resignation, and self-accusation of the mother in that situation.

Miss Hartley did much research before she played the role, although she had her own family experience behind her. ''I spent a lot of time with a couple whose child had committed suicide. You know, suicidal teen-agers don't really want to kill themselves forever - they just don't want to live right now. They fantasize about people - especially their parents - saying 'Oh, I loved her so much, she was so wonderful, but we never really appreciated her.'

''We've got to learn how to to discipline our kids, but still let our teen-agers know we love them - no matter what.'' 'V,' the series

If you were held captive by the alien lizard Visitors on the recent miniseries ''V,'' you may want to continue the reptilian relationship. V, the series (NBC, Fridays, starting Oct. 26, 8-9 p.m.), picks up on the first anniversary of Liberation Day and remains full of red dust and antidotes, half-reptile, half-human characters, and a villainess who makes Joan Collins look like Little Miss Marker - Diana, the baaaaad girl from outer space. ''What a primitive planet!'' she exclaims as she escapes Earth in her spike-heeled boots, extracting an old-fashioned bullet from her reptilian chest.

Well, ''V'' does go on that way. What started out in miniseries form as high-concept science fiction has turned into high-camp science fiction.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.