The Austin Chronicle

A Little TLC

By Margaret Moser, December 12, 1997, Screens

The Titanic salied from Southampton on April 10, 1912 and headed for America but went down in history instead. Discovery brings two specials on it next week, while TLC features two nights' worth of shows on Castles of the Sea.

It's a rare night in my home when the remote doesn't land on the Discovery Channel or The Learning Channel at least once. I don't even need to look to see what's on — I'll probably like what's there.

Marc Savlov commented in his video piece this week that TLC is known as "The Shark Channel" around his house, which made me chuckle; I think of it as "The Airplane Channel" for all its aviation shows. There's not much about sharks and a little about aviation this week on TLC, but mostly it's the "Best of TLC Week" for the channel.

"Best of" technically began last Sunday with Forces of Nature, Alien Secrets, Sideshow (a fascinating look at circus sideshows), and Trauma episodes, but Thursday night continues with episode 1 of Secrets Revealed (12/11; 7pm, 11pm) just in case you missed the recent FOX special about how magicians saw women in half or wonder what tips contestants in the Miss America pageant use. The second episode of Secrets Revealed (12/11; 8pm, midnight) clues you in to such things as how pickpockets operate. (Perhaps a show on life in prison might be appropriate to follow but I see none on the schedule.) The final Secrets Revealed (12/11; 9pm, midnight) episode that night is "The Bermuda Triangle," a look at the Atlantic Ocean's own version of the twilight zone.

Three episodes of Solar Empire show on Friday beginning with "A Star is Born" (12/12; 7pm, 10pm), a tale of our sun and its planets, complete with graphics and pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope to reveal how planets form and then die. The second episode, "Alien Neighbors" (12/12; 8pm, midnight), explores the odd ways in which life forms everywhere from sub-zero temperatures in the Antarctic to the hubbub about Mars and the possibility of life there. (This one might been more fun if they had gotten David Duchovny or Gillian Anderson to narrate.) Solar Empire's final segment is "Space Trek" (12/12; 9pm, midnight), and examines the history of the exploration of outer space, concluding with a discussion of the colonization of Mars.

A night of medical themes wraps up the "Best of TLC" but you have to have either an iron stomach or professional interest to get through The Operation's "Cesarean Section" (12/13; 7pm, 10pm). (No one will shame you for passing on this one although I personally like the episode where the former Playmate has plastic surgery.) The Mystery of Twins (12/13; 8pm, midnight) is a look at the curious interest we have in twins as a Minnesota research project studies fraternal and identical twins, and tracks down some "separated as birth" cases. Separate Lives (12/13; 9pm, midnight) takes that examination even further as a team of surgeons (including neurosurgeons, neurodiologists, plastic surgeons, anesthetists, urologists, and other specialists) separate Siamese twin girls.

It feels really weird to enjoy this kind of programming so much, possibly because I used to sweat and fidget through it in elementary school whenever they'd drag out those old projector and film reels and screen stultifying, dull footage of turtles. I bet it's different these days — jazzy VCRs and fast-forward capabilities make it a lot less boring. Still, I bet there are just as many fidgety kids.

Titanic is likely to be one of the season's hit films in the theatres as it starts the 19th, and you're going to be seeing lots of references to it. Discovery has three hours of programming on the luxury liner next Sunday with Titanic: Untold Stories (12/21; 8pm) and Titantic: Anatomy of a Disaster (12/21; 9pm). Until then, you'll have to settle for having your oceanliner interests back on TLC, as Castles of the Sea begins its run.

More than just floating hotels, ocean liners have served as statements of national pride and technological might. The history of ocean liners is explored as they spanned and connected the

world, carrying immigrants, soldiers, and vacationers. Look for "Maiden Voyage" (12/14; 8pm, midnight) and "Glory Days" (12/14; 9pm, midnight) on Sunday to trace the development of ships when steam took over from sails. Monday, "The Great Duel" (12/15; 8pm, midnight) looks at the ocean liner during wartime while "Super Liners" (12/15; 9pm, midnight) talks about its competition with airlines as a mode of transporation. All that and no cartoons.

(For those of you who have no plans for New Year's Eve, TLC is devoting its evening programming to two episodes of Ancient Prophecies followed by Armageddon. Only Nostradamus seems to be missing. And Weezer — this is my official notice that you are on your own for New Year's Eve this year. I am staying home and watching TV, not going out. Besides, Dr. John is playing Antone's the night before and that's good enough for me.)

I was in Seattle last weekend, and while the weather sucked here, it was uncharacteristically fabulous in Seattle. "What's the deal?," I asked my mom.

"El Niño," she replied.

Ah. Of course. The words we've been innundated with for some weeks now, threatening like jungle drums: NI-ño NI-ño NI-ño NI-ño. Some of us around here have been torturing co-workers by sending every report of El Niño to them by e-mail. The last episode of TLC's Wonders of Weather series (12/17; 7pm) is entitled "Savage Seas," and explores the way storms affect oceans, and the way massive power winds and tidal waves develop, as well as the effects of global warming.

Enough of the academics. I'm ready for some more cartoons. And keep sending in those Desert Island TV shows, the list of those 10 TV shows (not series) you couldn't live without. If I get enough, maybe I'll compile a Top Ten from the readers.

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