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Highlights

Turn On, Tune In Or Miss Out

Tall 'Paul' hits the high notes; wrestling 'Unreal Story'; Black's 'Cadillac'; walk on Lou Reed's side

April 26, 1998|STEVEN LINAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sunday

"Live From Lincoln Center"/ noon KCET

PBS is hardly the place one expects to find a tall tale, but that's precisely what we get with the New York City Opera production of Benjamin Britten's "Paul Bunyan." Set in the 19th century, this opera celebrates the taming of the wilderness under the guidance of the bigger-than-life logger, a man everyone looks up to, literally and figuratively. Jeffrey Lentz appears as Johnny Inkslinger, the dreamer who becomes Paul's bookkeeper. Britten and poet W.H. Auden collaborated on the opera, which originally premiered in 1941.

****

"The Unreal Story of Professional Wrestling" / 5 and 9 p.m. A&E

Pin falls and pile drivers are a hot ticket on cable these days, making this the right time for a history of mat mania. Writer-producer Chris Mortensen offers a lighthearted account that combines archival footage with interviews of past and present grapplers as well as rival promoters and authors who categorize it as soap opera or sports entertainment. Is it fake? Of course, says bemused narrator Steve Allen, who in lifting a line from Shakespeare asserts that "The play's the thing."

****

"The Simpsons" / 8 p.m. Fox

In terms of milestones, the biggest to date for this enduringly sharp satire was eclipsing "The Flintstones" as the longest-running animated series of all time, a feat accomplished in February 1997. Fourteen months and loads of laughs later, the Sunday night hit serves up episode No. 200. In it, Springfield dunderhead Homer runs for sanitation commissioner against the incumbent (voiced by Steve Martin) after his trash goes uncollected. Is it possible he can win without running a dirty campaign? Rubbish!

****

"Nicholas' Gift" / 9 p.m. CBS

A true story inspired this TV movie about the good that comes from tragedy involving a loved one. Jamie Lee Curtis and Alan Bates star as Maggie and Reginald Green, a husband and wife vacationing in Italy where their 7-year-old son is shot to death by thieves. When the child is declared brain-dead at the hospital, the Greens gradually come to terms with their grief and generously donate Nicholas' organs, an unselfish gesture that saves the lives of others.

****

"Masterpiece Theatre" / 9 p.m. KCET

Helen Mirren, who was superb as the fierce, complex Jane Tennison of "Prime Suspect," gives life to a different character on "Painted Lady," a two-part drama in which the art world meets the underworld. As the story opens, burned-out blues singer Maggie Sheridan (Mirren) suspects a conspiracy behind the murder of her patron, a gentleman who has obscure masterpieces hidden away--one of which is missing. Posing as a Polish countess, Maggie tries to find the painting, encountering a renowned art dealer (Franco Nero) along the way.

Monday

"The World's Most Dangerous Magic" / 8 p.m. NBC

You won't find any simple sleight-of-hand tricks on the network's latest exercise in illusions. In one piece of derring-do, a straitjacketed Dean Gunnarson is swung by a crane over Hoover Dam, where (one hopes) he'll break free of his restraint and freefall to safety. In other segments, Jonathan Pendragon balances his wife on the point of a sword, and shackled Melinda escapes from a pit filled with venomous snakes. Danger, after all, is their business.

Tuesday

"Still Holding On: Cadillac Black" / 9 p.m. CBS

Clint Black knows all about singing, but acting presents a fresh challenge for the seasoned country star. In this TV movie, he plays the title role opposite real-life wife and "Knots Landing" alum Lisa Hartman Black. The fact-based story centers on Jack Favor, a 1960s rodeo champion who was falsely convicted of a murder committed by two hitchhikers. Hartman plays the loyal spouse vowing to free her husband, who served eight years in a Louisiana prison. And yes, this woeful tale of injustice led Black to write a song, which appeared on a 1996 album.

Thursday

"Lou Reed: Rock and Roll Heart" / 10 p.m. KCET

Speaking of music, this "American Masters" profile charts the life of the Long Island-raised rocker. The documentary, from portrait photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, traces Reed's music over three decades, from the '60s formation of the Velvet Underground to his recent collaboration on the futuristic rock opera "Time Rocker." David Bowie, David Byrne, Patti Smith, Philip Glass, Suzanne Vega and other notable musicians discuss the influence Reed had on their own careers.

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