Monday, February 18, 2008

Prime time

When a discussion comes up about prime-time television, I'm about as lost as I am when someone brings up cooking techniques. Which is saying something.

There's just not much on of interest to me. I've only made it through "Survivor" once, and have no interest in seeing the updated version of the Ted Mack Amateur Hour, better known as "American Idol." There are good shows out there, I'm sure, but I've never seen them.

But there is one exception. I'm a devoted viewer of "American Experience" on PBS.

Monday nights starting in January, the show cranks out generally interesting documentaries about American history. I always learn things. I also always wonder about the people behind the scenes who take the time to put these films together.

In other words, someone had to sit down a while ago and say, "Boy, I think America is interested in the history of the lobotomy."

Oddly enough, that person was right, at least as far as this very small section of America is concerned. Usually, the shows are done well enough so that almost any topic is worthwhile.

This year's programs already have covered the usual wide range of subjects. "Grand Central" covered the rail terminal in New York City and its history. Can't say I knew that the construction of the building was responsible for the concept of "air rights" in real estate. New York Central pushed its tracks under ground and sold the real estate above it in order to finance the project.

Then there's Mary Pickford. I knew she was a movie star, I knew she was "America's sweetheart," whatever that means. I didn't know that she basically was our first has-been. Pickford played young roles in silent pictures starting around World War I, and became a huge star. But then she grew older, and audiences weren't interested in seeing her grow up. Her personal story didn't have an happy ending.

Tonight's story was on Kit Carson. Now I've heard of him, but I can't say I know the reason why. So while I'm not sure if I need to see 90 minutes on Carson, I'll learn a few things if I merely start the tape up. Next week is a show on Buffalo Bill Cody. Having been to his grave, I learned that Cody was essentially the 19th century version of Don King in terms of promotion. He would have fit right in with the boxing crowd.

The program runs into spring, and reruns are often aired during the course of the year.

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