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May 03, 1987|Howard Rosenberg

"FRONTLINE," 9-10 p.m. Tuesday (28)(15)--Thanks to public television, the documentary lives.

While full-length documentaries are down to an irregular trickle from the budget-crunched news divisions of the big three commercial networks, they continue to flourish on PBS where "Frontline" again is providing unmatched weekly topicality.

Los Angeles viewers are especially fortunate this season, having had the weekly bonus of "California Stories," a locally produced quality documentary series from KCET seen at 7:30 p.m. Saturdays.

Nationally, though, the long-running "Frontline" series is setting the pace for relevant, sometimes highly controversial documentaries from a variety of sources. In April alone, "Frontline" presented a profile of a man who discovered a 30-year-old government file declaring him a security risk, and another hour that was a lesson on the making of foreign policy in its assessment of the Reagan Administration's support of the Nicaraguan rebels known as contras .

This week's program, "The Bombing of West Philly," retraces the steps leading to the overreacting police destruction of an entire mostly black Philadelphia neighborhood in 1985 in a clash with a small, violent urban cult known as MOVE. The confrontation ended when a bomb dropped from a police helicopter started a massive fire that destroyed 61 houses, left 250 persons homeless and killed 11 residents of a MOVE residence, including five children.

Upcoming is a "Frontline" program searching for the missing millions that the present Philippines government claims that Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos stole from their country and stashed


And speaking of millions, meanwhile, a two-part look at the most conservative elements of the Christian church--"Thy Kingdom Come" and "Thy Will Be Done"--has been postponed for updating in the wake of the scandal clouding TV preachers James and Tammy Bakker.

Amen to "Frontline."

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