Smithsonian takes TV to the sea, but spends too long underwater

Talk about ecological hazards. It seems like the world's waterways are becoming polluted with TV-oriented scientists, as still another research vessel - the Marsys Resolute - joins Jacques Cousteau's Calypso in the deep-sea maneuvering for electronic space.

The Sea: A Quest for Our Future (PBS, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 10-11 p.m., check local listings) concerns a Smithsonian Institution exploration of the coral reefs of the Caribbean Sea in a continuing search for future food resources.

The film, produced by the Smithsonian's Office of Telecommunications, was four years in the making. Its incisive cameras beautifully record the structure of the brilliant coral reefs in remote areas of the West Indies, which the show says constitute the most productive ecosystems on the face of the earth. Of special interest are the experiments to breed the mithrax, a tasty Caribbean creature, for food, much like the Alaskan king crab.

The film records the adventures of a 12-person two-day field trip to collect specimens for the living coral reef exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History. Some sexism-oriented viewers may wonder why, aboard ship, it is only the female scientists who are pictured doing kitchen chores.

Narrated by the off-camera voice of James Whitmore, the film utilizes the on-camera personality Dr. Walter Adey, a marine biologist. While the good doctor is very knowledgeable, he is not exactly a charismatic personality. As the long hour progresses one longs for the Gallic spirit of Captain Cousteau or the intelligent charm of ''Smithsonian World'' host David McCullough. As a matter of fact, this viewer wonders why ''The Sea'' was not cut to manageable length and aired as a segment on ''Smithsonian World,'' a fine series in which the Smithsonian is already involved. 'A Touch of Scandal'

''Politics and murder is a marriage made in heaven,'' states one loathsome character early on in what may well be television's low point of the season. The statement proved to be a harbinger of sleaze to come.

A Touch of Scandal (CBS, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 9-11 p.m.) seems to have all the elements some people at Columbia Pictures Television and CBS obviously believe will make for a popular made-for-TV movie. It is cheap, sordid, illogical, immoral - and vaguely relevant.

Let's get the alleged relevance out of the way fast. It concerns a woman in politics, a sexy city councilwoman campaigning for the state attorney general's office. Because her husband is not interested in sex - only power - she turns to a male prostitute for solace. So I suppose the statement being made is that women in government can be as immoral as men in government. So much for relevance.

The movie goes on to feature calculated dishonesty, murder, blackmail, official hypocrisy, and lots of cheap thrills in story line as well as execution. It misuses a priest, insults ''do-gooders,'' sneers at politicians, even demeans prostitutes. In fact, it degrades just about everybody and everything with which it comes into contact.

Totally miscast - the main parts seem to have been chosen from a grab bag of available actors - the movie manages to misuse one of my favorite TV actresses, Angie Dickinson. She was provocatively believable as detective Pepper in her own series, but she is sadly out of her job category as attorney general - and totally unbelievable as an ignored mate. Don Murray and Jason Miller appear uneasy in their roles, as well they should have been. Producer Doris Keating and director Ivan Nagy deserve to share the blame.

A movie as hateful as ''A Touch of Scandal'' deserves to be ignored.

Do yourself and CBS's reputation for quality in programming a favor. Don't bother to watch ''A Touch of Scandal.''

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.