The Daytime TV Diaries

TV Eye

Modern classicist Loreena McKennitt rarely tours, but No Journey's End, a half-hour special about the various influences of her Celtic-based sound, is a star in KLRU's programming crown. Then there's Austin City Limits....

Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Grateful Dead, Loreena McKennitt, B.B.King, Leo Kottke, Benny Goodman, Peter, Paul & Mary... sound like a genre-expanded Austin Music Network or MTV with a sense of history? Guess again -- this is all music on KLRU (TW Ch 9) this week.

The very words "public television" used to strike fear in my heart when I was young. My dad watched a lot of it, and it seemed to me to be an endless stream of boring opera, dry science, stiff English series, and dull nature documentaries. He adored Turandot, I craved Bugs Bunny, but I watched Turandot just to please him.

There's little relation between the limited programming of public television of the Sixties and its modern-day counterpart. Sometime in the late Seventies and early Eighties when cable became commonplace and before networks like The Discovery Channel, Bravo, and Arts & Entertainment began encroaching on the hallowed ground with braver, newer approaches, public television began to emerge from its rigid format.

Certainly, KLRU can take pride in having been one of the first to brave changes with Austin City Limits. Conceived during the progressive country scare of the Seventies as a way of separating the great from the awful and bringing it all into the living room, ACL has gone on to celebrate the best in songwriter-oriented heartland music, be it country, blues, folk, or any of its myriad combinations, on local, regional, and national levels. Next January, the show will be entering its 23rd season, and while its Austin emphasis is less pronounced than it used to be, ACL does a splendid job of putting local artists in a national context (something that AMN does well with their numerous clip shows). KLRU's output isn't just musical, though, they are also the producer of Austin at Issue (8/9, 4:30pm), a public affairs program appearing every Thursday evening and the monthly Central Texas Gardener.

Truthfully, KLRU got attention this week not because of the August membership drive underway but because Loreena McKennitt: No Journey's End (8/8, 11:30pm) is showing this Friday evening. If my dad were still alive, I know he and I could sit together and watch this show together with nary a thought of Turandot or Bugs Bunny to remind us of years past, just a warm, thoughtful program highlighting an exquisitely talented performer. No Journey's End traces the Canadian native's exploration of the facets of Celtic music influencing her modern but classic stylings.

Earlier in the evening, Peter, Paul and Mommy, Too (8/8, 8:05pm) create delightful memories of their own with family songs, neither too childlike nor too preachy, in the trio's inimitable way, including "Day Is Done" and "Pastures of Plenty." After that, Leo Kottke (8/8, 10:05pm) looks at the noted guitarist in performance and at home. McKennitt's special then follows, but expect to see a lot of pledge drive activity in between -- and if you like what you're seeing, you know what they want you to do.

Glenn Miller: America's Musical Hero (8/9, 4:30pm) probably won't plumb the recent scandal suggesting that the Big Band leader died not on duty but in the arms of a prostitute, but that's just as well. There is much in the way of performance footage, film clips, and interviews to remind you why his Swing Era orchestra was so popular. Popularity being what it is, From Lawrence Welk to America With Love (8/9, 6pm) pays tribute to the one person who's had more jokes made about him than Wayne Newton and Liberace. Still, this tribute to Welk's 40-year musical legacy should leave even the most skeptical viewer with a respect for the bandleader's dedication to popular as well as ethnic music. (Yes, Myron Floren and the Lennon Sisters appear.) Benny Goodman's Greatest Hits (8/9, 8pm) looks at the clarinetist and the classics he made famous --look for Lionel Hampton, Patti Page, and Richard Stoltzman. That's a long, strange trip to get to The Grateful Dead: Anthem to Beauty (8/9, 9:30pm), but if you've gotten this far in one evening, you're all the richer for it. This show looks at the evolution of the Dead's philosophy and mystique by examining their second album, 1968's Anthem to the Sun, and their sixth album, 1970's American Beauty, as reference points.

Continuing a musical note (though it would be remiss not to mention An African Love Story (8/10, 3pm), a memoir about Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy's travels in East Africa in 1966, as recalled in 1994 by Cronyn and their daughter Tandy Cronyn), an excellent Austin City Limits (8/11, 8:05pm) features bluesman B.B. King performing "The Thrill Is Gone," "Rock Me Baby," and "Stormy Monday," among others but it's Stevie Ray Vaughan: A Retrospective (8/11, 9:30pm) that is likely to get the attention of Austin viewers. This look at Austin's favorite son as the anniversary of his death nears spotlights his 1984 and 1990 ACL performances, and both capture him in periods of his best work (repeats 8/16, 9pm). The ACL following Vaughan's (8/11, 11pm), catches Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, the East Texas fiddler who mixes blues, country, jazz, Cajun, and Texas funk, and the rich bluesy voice of Keb' Mo'.

That's a lot of music, and yes, it has a distinctly modern -- not to mention local -- flair, but next week on KLRU, diva Roberta Peters hosts Great Moments in Opera (8/17, 5:30pm), a collection of arias and performances not from the Met or La Scala but from The Ed Sullivan Show. In retrospect, Sullivan's inclusion of opera alongside Topo Gigio, plate-twirlers, and the Rolling Stones during his Sixties heyday seems pretty brave. Daddy would be pleased to know I watched. The next night is Riverdance (8/18, 8pm). Forget about the silly commercials -- this is a genuinely exciting performance that makes optimum use of the Irish proclivity for song and dance. When you're wondering why the show includes Spanish dancers plus African and Russian influences, remember that the Celtic Empire spread well over toward Eastern Europe.

Hey! All that and no Bugs Bunny!

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