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November 23, 1986|Lee Margulies

"A DAY IN THE LIFE OF AMERICA," Wednesday, 8-9 p.m. (28)(15)(24); 9-10 p.m. (50)--Get yourself in the proper mood for Thanksgiving by feasting on this delectable program.

It isn't specifically about Thanksgiving, but it will put you in mind of some of the things for which you ought to be thankful. At the top of the list: an appreciation for having the opportunity to climb the mountain range of life, whose valleys of heartache and struggle are mitigated by peaks of beauty and human warmth.

This is a celebration of the ordinary--a look at how some of us Americans spent May 2, 1986. Not in the big ways that may have made news on May 3, but in the small ways--the ways most of us go through life: going to school, working, marrying, socializing, attending church . . . persevering.

The TV program was written and produced by Miriam Birch for Pittsburgh's WQED-TV in conjunction with the production of another in the series of "A Day in the Life" books, in which scores of photojournalists are deployed to record images of a single day's events in a particular country or state. To the force of 220 still photographers scattered across the United States, WQED added 23 camera crews, hoping to capture what executive producer Gregory Andorfer termed "a portrait of the American experience."

Not surprisingly, it's a decidedly upbeat portrait they present, devoid of hustlers and homeless, of racism and greed. There are suggestions of a dark side in segments about a financially pressed farm family in Iowa, a mother on welfare in New York and a poor Indian community in South Dakota, but the individuals chosen to speak are ones who still retain hope for the future.

Mostly we see people trying to make the most of life--a succession of couples getting married, doctors working to save patients, Marine Corps recruits exerting themselves at boot camp, residents of a retirement home putting on a show, deaf students learning to dance, immigrants paying homage to the United States as the land of opportunity.

It's a wonderfully varied and altogether invigorating collection of video snapshots. Richard Kiley's narration grows flowery at times in trying to describe it, but there really is a spirit here to be felt.

If someone wanted to make a music video of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," "A Day in the Life of America" might be it.

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