The great miniseries question. Do you have 12 hours to view pre-Civil War drama?

Television can change people's attitudes toward life. That is generally agreed. But it can also change your actual day-to-day life style, too. If you let it. The life-style-changing week-long miniseries started with ``Roots'' a few years ago and pops up intermittently on commercial television with an insistent demand that you change your daily routine in order to watch.

You must be willing to devote most of your prime-time life for six days to a television show, to see -- or rather participate in the viewing of -- the 12-hour miniseries North and South (ABC, Sunday Nov. 3, 9-11 p.m.; also same time on the following Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday).

Is it worth the outrageous demand on your time? Well, first of all, do you like to read John Jakes? This miniseries is based upon the novel by Jakes (a sequel based on his ``Love and War'' is already in the works for an additional 12 hours). Like the Jakes novel which deals with the 1842-1861 period leading up to the Civil War, this David Wolper-produced miniseries tries for authenticity -- in mores, in costumes, in locations. It is a panoramic exploration of the lives of various members of two Am erican families living through the turbulent years. Conflicts, both personal and national, are delved into in great detail through ingenious (and long) parallel storytelling.

Although most of the main characters are unknown actors, the series is loaded down with cameo roles filled by superstars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Johnny Cash, Robert Mitchum, and Gene Kelly. Patrick Swayze and James Read play with earnest believability the major roles of the Southerner and Northerner caught in the pre-conflict conflict. But 12 hours is a long time to ask individuals to devote to following a story that could easily have been told in three, four, or perhaps six hours.

``North and South'' is not a mere period ``Dallas,'' although there is a lot of ``Dallas'' in it. Mixed in with the soap opera, there is horse opera and valuable bits of history. It has been shot with painstaking care to ensure that there will be authenticity in its reconstruction of the time.

The big question for most viewers is: Do you have the time to spare, and if so, do you really want to squander it this way?

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