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CRITIC'S CORNER / Howard Rosenberg

January 18, 1987|HOWARD ROSENBERG

"ALL MY SONS," Monday, 8-10 p.m. (50); 9-11 p.m. (28)(15)--"American Playhouse" is starting its sixth season on PBS as the element of contemporary TV most like the weekly anthologies of the 1950s.

Political conditions were different then, and the TV rudimentary, black and white, live and more experimental. But the intent--to give domestically produced drama a regular presence on American TV--was much the same as what "American Playhouse" is attempting to do in a more limited way.

The good news is that "American Playhouse" is back, leading off with the unscreened "All My Sons," Arthur Miller's early play about integrity and values set in the aftermath of World War II. James Whitmore plays a generally decent man who did bad things during the war. Co-starring are Michael Learned, Aidan Quinn, Joan Allen and Zeljko Ivanek.

Future productions include "The Prodigious Hickey" by Owen Johnson, "The Wide Net" by Eudora Welty and "Smooth Talk" by Joyce Chopra. And coming in May is the five-part miniseries, "Story of a Marriage" by Academy Award winner Horton Foote.

"American Playhouse" has an uneven record that includes a good share of clunkers. An enthusiastic welcome is in order, though, for any series that has provided such soaring highlights as Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s charming "Who Am I This Time?," "The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez," starring Edward James Olmos, Lynne Littman's haunting nuclear-horror film "Testament," and "El Norte," the moving saga of two young Guatemalans in California by Gregory Nava and Anna Thomas. The last three also were released theatrically.

The bad news is that seven of 17 productions in this season's lineup (including "El Norte") already have aired on TV, most of them on "American Playhouse," some of them more than once.

Reruns are part of America too.

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