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The Fall Tv Season : Pbs Adding Few New Series To Fall Lineup

September 09, 1985|LEE MARGULIES | Times Staff Writer

The staples will be there, but not much new is being added to public television's program menu this fall.

In fact, this is the first time in many years that the Public Broadcasting Service is launching a season without a major new, American-produced series in the lineup.

Luckily for viewers, the staples of public television's menu are rich in diversity and chock-full of substance: "Masterpiece Theatre," "Nova," "Great Performances," "Wonderworks," "The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour," "Sesame Street," "Wall Street Week," "Washington Week in Review" and "Mystery!"

"It's not like there's going to be blank air out there; we're going to be very lively," said Suzanne Weil, PBS' senior vice president for programming.

The absence of a new American-produced series is "a blip" in PBS' programming plans, not an omen, Weil maintained. It is the result, she said, of the financial squeeze that hit public television several years ago when Congress and the Reagan Administration reduced the federal allocation to the noncommercial broadcast system.

The system has since made adjustments to the lower funding level, she said, promising that"This is the last season that we will not have a major new series by one of our stations in the schedule."

Acknowledging that she would have been happier with such a series this fall, Weil insisted nonetheless that the lineup is strong.

"It's not a downer; we're very pleased about what we've got," she said. "I don't expect that we are going to lose audience or attention or anything like that this fall. In fact, I think we will continue to build."

Perhaps the most ambitious of the new public television offerings is "War: A Commentary by Gwynne Dyer," a seven-part series produced by the National Film Board of Canada. Premiering Oct. 1, it features journalist Dyer traveling to 10 countries to trace the history of warfare, to interview soldiers, officers and military strategists for their perspectives on combat and to explore the evolution of the potentially devastating situation that exists in the superpowers' nuclear arsenals.

"We're very excited about 'War,' " Weil said. "If we'd had all the money in the world (for original programming), we would still have wanted to buy that series."

Other new series (and their premiere dates on KCET Channel 28) include "Quest for the Killers" (starting tonight), a five-part report about how doctors and scientists in such locales as Papua New Guinea, New York City, the Caribbean and Bangladesh are working to eradicate diseases; "River Journeys" (Nov. 6), a six-part series in which well-known writers Christina Dodwell, William Shawcross, Michael Wood, Germaine Greer, Brian Thompson and Russell Braddon host trips along the world's famous rivers; "Owl/TV" (Nov. 10), a 10-episode, magazine-format series for young people about science and nature, produced by the National Audubon Society and the Young Naturalist Foundation, and the as-yet-unscheduled "Lone Star," an eight-part history of Texas, hosted by Larry Hagman.

Weil said that she also is pleased with the specials that PBS will be airing this fall. Among them: "The Abortion Battle" (Sept. 18), a three-hour compilation of several films on the subject, including the controversial anti-abortion film "The Silent Scream" and a rebuttal produced by Planned Parenthood; a documentary about the history of the Statue of Liberty (Oct. 30); a documentary in November about Halley's Comet, which is due to appear in 1986, and "The Creation of the Universe," a look (also in November) at how physicists are turning up clues to the origin and evolution of the universe through their research with subatomic particles.

Also on the PBS slate are two new college-credit telecourses: "The Mechanical Universe," a 26-part introduction to physics developed by Caltech, and "The Business File: An Introduction to Business," a 28-part course featuring interviews with economist Milton Friedman, Prof. Lester Thurow of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Robert Steve Miller of Chrysler Corp.

But back to the staples. Here's a look at what the PBS anthology series have planned in the months ahead (with KCET air dates):

"Live From Lincoln Center" will offer "The Juilliard School at 80" on Oct. 6 and Puccini's opera "La Rondine" on Nov. 3. Other programs in November will feature a tribute to Aaron Copland by the New York Philharmonic, and Joan Sutherland in Donizetti's "Anna Bolena."

"Wonderworks," the series of dramas for young people and their parents, begins its second season Oct. 7 with a two-part comedy, "Konrad," about a "perfect" boy who is manufactured by a factory and then must be turned into a real child if his mother is to keep him. It stars Ned Beatty, Polly Holliday and Huckleberry Fox.

Carol Burnett, Carrie Fisher, Henry Winkler, Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman provided the voices for "Happily Ever After," an animated story about a girl coping with her parents' divorce. The show is scheduled for Oct. 21.

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