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TV Reviews : Warmth and Nostalgia of 'Try to Remember'

June 23, 1988|HOWARD ROSENBERG

What ABC ultimately rejected, CBS may embrace.

ABC dropped "Our World" with Linda Ellerbee and Ray Gandolf after its 1986-87 season of extremely low ratings, then later admitted that canceling the cost-effective series may have been a mistake.

Now it's CBS' turn to travel backward in time by airing a pilot for a proposed retrospective series of its own--at 8 tonight on Channels 2 and 8.

"Try to Remember" is a pleasing hour of warmth and nostalgia from CBS News, one that resonates with the presence of host Charles Kuralt while recalling, through clips and freshly taped interviews, the week of Aug. 10-17, 1969.

Retrospective makers think alike, apparently, for the premiere of "Our World" centered on July-August, 1969.

Whereas "Our World" was an hour program, however, "Try to Remember" would be a half hour as a series. And whereas "Our World" rode the considerable writing skills of hosts Gandolf and Ellerbee (who is seeking funding for a similar series on PBS), "Try to Remember" has The Voice--those Kuraltian sounds and rhythms that fill and enrich. And it has the pedigree in executive producer Robert (Shad) Northshield, formerly Kuralt's long-time collaborator on "CBS News Sunday Morning."

Northshield's influence is reflected here especially in the thoughtful use of natural sound without narration, as the camera at one point slowly pans the Vietnam War Memorial to record the 325 names of Americans killed in Vietnam during that August week.

This is one of many poignant moments in "Try to Remember," whose memory also includes black political revolution in Alabama, the bitter legacy of violence in Northern Ireland, Hurricane Camille and the return of Apollo 11 astronauts from the moon (the latter two were also part of the "Our World" premiere).

You pick your highlight--or sad light--depending on your age or interest. But nothing tonight is more profound, or better captures both a communal spirit and an era's ironies, than excerpts from "Woodstock," despite their reduced visual power on a small screen.

"Woodstock" is the Oscar-winning 1970 documentary about the previous year's nonstop rock concert in rural New York attended by 500,000 young people, including 25-year-old Martin Scorsese, an editor of the documentary. "They were pointing a finger at what was wrong with society," the now-famous director recalls over previously unreleased footage of a wailing Janis Joplin, the rock singer who destroyed herself with drugs.

Viewed against the broad sweep of history, the events of "Try to Remember" are minor footnotes, at most, and ones whose presentation is shaped by the availability of pictures. But they do provide context and prove that revivals of contemporary history make far better viewing than revivals of "Gilligan's Island."

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