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Bicentennial Observance : Tv's Big Bash For The Constitution

September 08, 1987|JAY SHARBUTT | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Despite the lack of striking visual images that made last year's celebration of the Statue of Liberty's birthday such a major television event, this month's observance of the Constitution's 200th anniversary also will bring an outpouring of special TV programs.

They range from parades and entertainment shows to network documentaries about the effect of the Constitution and a four-part series on PBS.

Only NBC lacks a major constitutional program. Its planned special was dropped in July because of a strike, now in its 11th week, against the network by 2,800 members of the National Assn. of Broadcast Employees and Technicians.

NBC may wish that the Constitution gave it, in addition to Congress, power to have the militia "suppress insurrections." But at least it hasn't had the difficult task facing the other networks in matters of constitutional huzzahs.

The halcyon Fourth of July celebration was a fairly easy affair for the networks to acknowledge. The hoopla attending the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty here offered what they call "great visuals." Majestic sailing ships and warships passed in review by day. The night was filled with the rockets' red glare and bombs bursting in air.

But this time, television's task boils down to trying to interest viewers in what essentially is a video version of a high school essay, the kind that usually bears the title, "What the Constitution Means to Me."

The first of the network programs on the subject airs tonight at 10 on ABC. "The Constitution: We Live It Every Day" is hosted by David Hartman.

Featuring four stories about people whose lives have been touched by the power of the Constitution, the show marks Hartman's first major ABC venture since leaving "Good Morning America" earlier this year after 11 1/2 years as co-host.

Hartman, who has an ABC contract for three prime-time specials and a series pilot, says tonight's hourlong program narrowly focuses on personal freedom--and is intentionally free of lawyerly talk.

Had lawyers and judges been brought in, he says, he feared that "we would have wound up with a legal show, not one that I hope will appeal to people across the board. . . ."

The basic idea of the program, he says, "is that personal freedom really is the core of the Constitution--and that the Constitution is kind of a protective umbrella over all of us."

Other Constitution specials on tap are:

--ABC's "A Celebration of Citizenship" (Sept. 16, 10 a.m.), a live program intended to give schoolchildren information about the responsibilities of citizenship. It will include President Reagan leading the Pledge of Allegiance from the Capitol and former Chief Justice Warren Burger reading the Preamble of the Constitution.

--ABC's "The Blessings of Liberty" (Sept. 16, 8-11 p.m.), anchored by Peter Jennings, David Brinkley and Ted Koppel. With the aid of selected historical material read by a 12-member repertory troupe that includes Ossie Davis, Martin Sheen, Linda Lavin, Cicely Tyson and E.G. Marshall, the program focuses on the Constitution as a living document, tracing its evolution and citing its applications in past and present times. Av Westin is executive producer.

--CBS' "We the People 200: The Celebration of the Bicentennial of the Constitution of the United States" (Sept. 17). This is really two programs. The first starts in the morning (live at 9 in the East, tape delayed at 8 in the West) with three-hour coverage of a Bicentennial parade in Philadelphia and President Reagan's remarks from Independence Hall. That night (9-11), CBS will televise a black-tie entertainment gala in Philadelphia and hosted by Walter Cronkite.

--PBS' "We the People" (Sept. 22), a four-part series hosted by ABC's Jennings and produced by San Francisco station KQED-TV, which developed it with the American Bar Assn. The series of hourlong programs examines the impact of the Constitution on the lives of Americans today.

Its leadoff program is about freedom of religion. The second, scheduled for Sept. 29, examines the issue of equality under the law. The third, to air Oct. 6, studies police powers under the Constitution and court interpretations of it. The concluding Oct. 13 chapter studies the divisions of power--state, federal, congressional, presidential and judicial--in a system designed 200 years ago.

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