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May 18, 1986|Howard Rosenberg

"ON WINGS OF EAGLES," 8-11 p.m. Sunday, and 9-11 p.m. Monday (4)(36) (39)--How about this for a hokey story:

Two American businessmen based in Tehran are unjustly jailed in the early days of the Iranian revolution in December, 1978. Their Texas industrialist boss recruits an aging Vietnam veteran to lead some of his executives on a daring rescue mission to free their comrades. They succeed.

Hokey? Yes, but also true. Good viewing? Absolutely.

Based on a book by Ken Follett, a best-selling author best known for his thriller fiction, NBC's "On Wings of Eagles" actually happened. Most of it, that is.

And most of it is pretty thrilling.

The industrialist is H. Ross Perot (Richard Crenna, seen on the cover), whose Electronic Data Systems (EDS) is evacuating its employees from Tehran when the two executives, Paul Chiapparone (Louis Giambalvo) and Bill Gaylord (Jim Metzler), are interrogated and jailed on false charges by an Iranian magistrate.

Perot did indeed assemble an unlikely team of his young, three-piece-suited executives, who were more like the Silicon Valley Dozen than the Dirty Dozen, and put it under the command of retired Col. Arthur D. (Bull) Simons, played by Burt Lancaster. And the EDS "commandos"did liberate their colleagues in an almost unbelievable mission.

Filmed in Mexico under the direction of Andrew McLaglen, "On Wings of Eagles" offers a sense of the chaos in Iran as it shook from a political upheaval that was to have shattering consequences for the United States. And the obstacle-laden dash for freedom toward the Turkish border, aided by a brash young Iranian (Esai Morales), makes for exciting TV.

What "On Wings of Eagles" doesn't do is establish a basis for the magistrate's obsessive, nationwide pursuit of the two American businessmen. Moreover, at least two key scenes in Monday's concluding episode--a Simons-staged escape from a set of Iranians and some silly, show-ending bravado at the Turkish border--never happened.

The true story of the rescue is riveting enough. So why change it? NBC does warn, in fine print, that portions "have beenfictionalized for dramatic purposes." True to TV, though, it just doesn't say which portions.

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