If television serves the symbolic purpose of the hearth for many American families, it is time to draw the family into a circle around that flickering electronic fireplace for what may be the best family entertainment of the year. In a TV season filled with pretentious and portentous programming like ``Peter the Great'' and ``Under Siege,'' public broadcasting has rediscovered the value of utter simplicity. Anne of Green Gables (PBS, Monday, Feb. 17 and for three succeeding Mondays, 7-8 p.m., check local listings) is a four-hour dramatization of a 1908 children's classic novel which has managed to survive many revivals through the generations. Now, in 1986, it radiates with honesty, morality, and true innocence. ``Anne of Green Gables,'' by Canadian writer Lucy Maud Montgomery, has been translated into more than 30 languages with over 8 million copies in print. Now it comes to us on TV by way of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Wonderworks. Producer-director is Kevin Sullivan, who also is co-author of the screenplay with Joe Weisenfeld.
It is a simple tale of Anne Shirley, a carrot-topped, freckle-faced, homely 12-year-old orphan who comes to live with a bachelor brother and sister in a green-gabled house on Prince Edward Island.
She is headstrong and feisty, but determined to be loved. And somehow vulnerable in the midst of her apparent invincibility.
As portrayed by Megan Follows, Anne is willful but always somehow lovable as she interacts with what must be the world's most delightfully stern and loving foster parents, played by Colleen Dewhurst and Richard Farnsworth. It is a world in which neighbors and teachers and best friends involve themselves in the lives of the people within their reach. The series allows everybody to age gracefully, to grow normally, to assume their proper roles in the society in which they choose to dwell.
Sound old-fashioned? Not at all. Well, maybe so if you consider old-fashioned a story which simply pays tribute to never-out-of-fashion values of compassion, love, devotion, responsibility, friendship, decency. And at the same time manages to be the most beautifully photographed, skillfully written and directed, superbly acted series of the season.
There are behind-the-scenes-in-the-making-of-``Anne'' segments scattered throughout the four-part series which are interesting but unnecessary. In fact, they tend to break the flow of the stylized story. But they were necessary to fill out the four hours, and those viewers who want to know more about the actors behind the characters may appreciate the extra interludes.
``Anne of Green Gables'' is brought to PBS by Wonderworks, a 23-week series targeting youngsters and their families, presented by the PBS Children's and Family Consortium.