Television to Relive D-Day - Wistfully

EVEN though they occurred before television existed, some historic events seem almost to have been designed for TV-news coverage - if only history hadn't perversely placed them too early for the medium's convenience. D-Day - the Allied landing on the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944 - may be the supreme example. Involving epic preparation and intense national purpose, it would have supplied a year's fodder for network news departments. The campaign's secret nature would only have enhanced the attraction for news producers.

But as the 50th anniversary of the momentous occasion nears, TV seems determined to make up for its absence. D-Day-anniversary programming will cut a broad swath on both broadcast and cable TV schedules. Whether it hits the right note for the occasion remains to be seen.

This is partly because dealing with the Normandy invasion is a curious challenge for TV. Like Pearl Harbor, whose 50th anniversary in 1991 the networks handled quite well for the most part, D-Day is near-history, the trickiest time frame for TV to deal with. It happened not quite long enough ago to say ``hardly a man is now alive,'' as Longfellow did in his poem ``Paul Revere's Ride.'' Yet when officials and network TV made an especially big deal over the 45th anniversary of D-Day, the reason given was the fear that far fewer veterans would be around for the 50th.

Actually, the current ranks of veterans - many of whom will be on the once-bloody beaches again for the ceremonies - are rather full, and now Americans too young to remember the invasion will come as close to experiencing the event, via TV, as the medium allows.

Here is an indication of what the major broadcast networks are doing:

* ABC News plans a week of material on the Allied landings on Normandy, beginning June 1 at 9:30 p.m., with a 90-minute edition of ``Turning Point'' anchored and reported by Peter Jennings. On Sunday, June 5, ``This Week With David Brinkley'' broadcasts from the Chateau de Vierville near the beaches of Normandy. The same day, ``Good Morning America/Sunday'' airs from St. Mere Eglise. On June 6 Jennings anchors ``World News Tonight'' from Normandy.

* CBS's eight hours of D-Day material will include a two-hour ``CBS Reports'' anchored by Dan Rather and Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf (US Army, ret.), airing Thursday, May 26, from 9-11 p.m.

``CBS News Sunday Morning,'' anchored by Charles Osgood in Normandy, offers a special edition on Sunday, June 5, from 9-10:30 a.m. The whole show will be devoted to D-Day. ``CBS This Morning'' has five hours of coverage live from the American Cemetery in Normandy on the day itself - Monday, June 6 - beginning at 7 a.m. It will include a ``Special Report'' on the ceremonies at Omaha Beach conducted by President Clinton. ``CBS Evening News'' on Monday, June 6, will feature reports from Normandy.

* On NBC, ``Today'' airs live from Normandy June 3, 7-9 a.m. ``NBC Nightly News'' airs from Portsmouth, England, where Queen Elizabeth is expected to conduct British memorials. Weekend editions of ``NBC Nightly News'' will be carried live from Normandy on June 4 and 5. British ceremonies will be covered Sunday, June 5, on ``Today'' (7-8 a.m.) and ``Meet the Press'' (8-9 a.m.).

And on June 6, Tom Brokaw, Bryant Gumbel, and Katie Couric anchor coverage of events on June 6 from the American Cemetery in Normandy, France.

* PBS offers a ``Masterpiece Theatre'' play called ``A Foreign Field'' on Sunday, May 22. ``The American Experience'' follows some of the major events during the Allied invasion of Europe on Wednesday, May 25. And ``A Fighter Pilot's Story,'' a documentary about veterans and friends who return to Normandy 50 years later, airs June 3 and 10.

* Please check local listings for all these programs.

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