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Weekend Tv : Talk Show, Documentaries In Debuts

June 28, 1986|LEE MARGULIES | Times Staff Writer

Viewers looking for something other than reruns to watch this weekend will find two series debuts and a music special about the Statue of Liberty.

Except for the fact that they aren't repeats, however, it's difficult to work up excitement for these offerings: yet another celebrity talk show, an overwritten, underphotographed documentary series about an adventurer/explorer and a platitudinous program that sings of Lady Liberty as "America's girl. . . . In every land you're a star."

Actually, as far as celebrity interview shows go--which isn't very far--"Up Front With. . . .," a 13-week series that premieres at 5:30 p.m. today on KCBS Channel 2, looks more substantial than most. Hosted by Greg Jackson, it's a commercial-TV version of "Signature," the talk show he did in 1981 on the short-lived CBS Cable channel, in which only one guest was featured on each program and the interviewer was merely heard, not seen.

The first program gets off to a tacky beginning as Jackson introduces Shelley Winters as a woman who once threw a party for all her past Hollywood lovers. "Many didn't show up, but most agree she is a great actress," he nonsensically reports.

The interview is better, as Winters reveals a serious, melancholy side of herself that belies the silly, self-parodying image she projects on "The Tonight Show." She speaks with sorrow about her relationship with her father, the price she paid to become a movie star, the emptiness she often feels.

Insofar as most talk shows propagate the misleading notion that celebrities are different from the rest of us primarily because they are relentlessly cheerful and always seem to have their lives in order, this is refreshing stuff.

"Explore," on the other hand, is a poor man's version of Jacques Cousteau. Premiring at 8 tonight on KCET Channel 28, the 13-part series chronicles the adventures of French explorer Douchan Gersi, who specializes in traveling to rarely seen places--such as, in this first installment, the interior of Borneo, where headhunting is still practiced.

Along the way, Gersi shoots some film. But not much. His grueling five-month trek through the jungles of Borneo is chronicled in less than 30 minutes. In the absence of compelling visuals, the narration by Gersi and James Coburn is comically overdramatized, as in "I am once again entering the unknown. . . . Tomorrow I may be meeting my destiny."

Gersi may be a daring and accomplished adventurer, but the evidence here is that his talents do not extend to film making.

The writing is equally overblown in "Lady Liberty--A Musical Salute to America," which KHJ-TV Channel 9 is broadcasting Sunday at 8 p.m. It's a blindly patriotic tribute to everything that is deemed good about the American character, from our love of liberty to our ingenuity, from our plucky spirit to our international efforts to promote brotherhood.

The musical selections, which are accompanied by montages of newsreel footage and film clips, are a strange mix, ranging from the Beach Boys, Woody Guthrie and Curtis Mayfield to material specially commissioned for the hourlong program. The images evoked are superficial and unfailingly positive; you'll find Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" here but nothing like Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" or Jackson Browne's "For America."

As luck would have it, a deeper, more textured program about liberty is available at the very same hour Sunday. KCET at 8 p.m. is repeating "The Statue of Liberty," Ken Burns' provocative documentary that both tells the history of the statue and explores its meaning to the country today. It makes for rewarding viewing.

Here are other weekend programs.

TODAY: A 21-hour telethon for the March of Dimes starts at 6 p.m. (39), 9 p.m. (13). . . .

Women in the United States and the Soviet Union converse on "A Citizens' Summit II," 7 p.m. (4).

SUNDAY: Holocaust survivors talk about seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time, on "Sunday Morning," 8 a.m. (2)(8). . . .

Drugs in professional sports will be the topic of "Meet the Press," with guests John Slaughter, chancellor of the University of Maryland; Ralph Sampson of the Houston Rockets, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and John Lawn of the Drug Enforcement Assn., 8:30 a.m. (4)(36). . . .

Commissioner Alan Nelson of the Immigration and Naturalization Services and several U.S. senators and governors discuss immigration issues on 'This Week With David Brinkley," 9 a.m. (7)(42), 3 p.m. (3), 4 p.m. (10). . . .

"Face the Nation" looks at the economy and oil prices with Sen. John Chafee (R-R.I.), Fred Hartley, chairman of Unocal, and others, 9:30 a.m. (2)(8).

Dr. Robert Gale, the UCLA specialist in bone marrow transplants who helped victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, will be the guest on "Channel 4 News Conference," 2 p.m. (4). . . .

"The McLaughlin Group" debates current affairs, 3 p.m. (4). . . . Howard Rosenberg, the Times' television critic, and Jeff Wald, news director at KTLA Channel 5, discuss the role of the news media in covering hostage situations on "Newsmakers," 3:30 p.m. (2). . . .

"At Issue" focuses on the abortion controversy, 4 p.m. (2). . . .

In a repeat broadcast, "60 Minutes" profiles real estate investor Donald Trump, visits a group of plastic surgeons who volunteer their services to Third World countries and looks at the campaign to ban smoking in public places, 7 p.m. (2)(8). . . .

"Ellis Island," a miniseries about a group of European immigrants, returns at 9 p.m. (2)(8). . . .

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