Shining Lighthouse



Heron Neck Light, Green Island in Penobscot Bay

These are tiresome subjects for many of you, how I watch more reruns than new shows but love Melrose Place, prefer old b&w films more than the latest action blockbuster, think Hanna-Barbera are the anti-Christ, and got hooked on Law & Order because of a letter from a reader. Oh yes, and why I love educational TV.

But once again, I found that surfing channels led to something quite wonderful: Legendary Lighthouses began on KLRU last Monday with the first of its six parts. (I feel compelled to say that I was channel surfing because Ally McBeal and Melrose Place weren't on, but there you are.)

Lighthouses are not something that have occupied much of my thinking, although I grew up in various places not far from the Gulf Coast. Lighthouses always seemed a little foreign to me, more a subject for some wistful New Yorker cover than food for the thought of a little girl in the South. I had vague notions of lighthouses because my maternal grandparents lived in New York and my parents once packed the family into the station wagon for an interminable drive to the East Coast. (This trip will be forever associated with a round of carsickness in the Smoky Mountains that accompanied the consumption of too many Baby Ruths by overly animated Moser children.) The romance of the lighthouse was what always struck me, and wasn't the lighthouse keeper always the same lone figure? Stooped, wind-weathered, grey-haired, and bearded? The life seemed to me to be achingly lonely though not without some satisfaction.

The first segment of Legendary Lighthouses (Mondays, 8pm KLRU; repeats Sundays 2pm), "Lighthouses of the North Atlantic," begins where lighthouses first appeared in North America, and does little to dispel the image of a solitary existence though the scenery was majestic and awe-inspiring, and the narration (by actor Richard Crenna) sympathetic and informative. Once crucial to ocean travel, lighthouses have been nudged out of use by technology, though a flat screen image hardly has the aesthetic of a lonesome tower flashing its beacon against a furious sea. They've been torn down, relocated, turned into museums and bed & breakfast quarters. There's even a United States Lighthouse Society, but the people who work them seem to have the nature of explorers who survive in limiting circumstances. Five more parts follow (though the series skips Oct. 19), visiting lighthouses along the coasts of Maine, California, Florida, along the South Atlantic coast, and up into the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound in Washington state.

You should have heard Weezer's voice on the phone as I babbled on about how wonderful the first show was. It's not that he was disbelieving -- he's a smart lad with the heart of a romantic -- but his voice took on the quality of an adult humoring a child. That's okay. I let Lighthouses shine in my living room for the better part of an hour, and I dreamed of the ocean that night.

The program pre-emptingLighthouses on Oct. 19 is Africans in America, (10/19-22, 7pm) which will run four consecutive nights in 90-minute segments. The press promises a comprehensive exploration of the different eras of slavery in America, from colonization to the Civil War. Angela Bassett, who has a wonderfully resonant voice, narrates the series, which begins with "The Terrible Transformation" when the mass transport of humans began. "Revolution" follows, with "Brotherly Love" and "Judgment Day" afterward.

Roots defined the history of slavery for television but it was fiction, no matter how based in fact it was. Even given the high standard of programming usually found on PBS, six hours still seems like a scant amount of time to examine something that has so deeply divided the country and its people. Expect a quality production nonetheless.


Elsewhere on KLRU's calendar, Lyle Lovett's Large Band is featured on the repeat Austin City Limits (10/9; 11pm); look for Sheryl Crow on ACL Saturday (10/10, 7pm) ...

Filmed in Texas (10/11, 8pm) makes its debut, featuring a host of local film writers and directors, including Richard Linklater, Hector Galán, Don Howard, and Peabody Award-winner Paul Stekler (who wrote this column its first fan letter, complimenting its "tangents," which I figured was a nice word for non sequiturs). See "Film Listings" for more info...

There is an early morning repeat of Crown & Country (10/12, 4:30am), which began its run last month with "Windsor Castle: A Royal Fortress." Prince Edward of England is host, narrator, writer, and executive producer, but he broke protocol and assumed the name "Edward Windsor" for this undertaking (the royals technically have no surname). I mention this repeat because the second in the series airs that night, "Portsmouth: Home of the Fleet and Seat of Military Power" (10/12, 10:30pm). What Windsor's series lacks in warmth (they really are a stiff upper lip bunch, those Windsors -- I have been reading beaucoup Diana books), it makes up for with insider knowledge rarely shared with the general public, much less the descendants of rebels who thumbed their nose at the monarchy and fled West ...

Wuthering Heights (10/18, 9pm) is remade for Mobil Masterpiece Theatre forthe umpteenth time but I feel like Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's every time Heathcliff takes the heroine in his arms and says, "my wild, sweet Cathy." I cry buckets. There must be some reason why Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights seem to transcend time and trends, and always seem to lend themselves to remakes. It's certainly not the trendy costumery of Jane Austen's books-to-film. It can't be the gloomy atmosphere and bleak emotion that the Bröntes' stories evoke. Maybe, like lighthouses, they appeal to the solitary heart, the soul whose hunger for life is not defined by creature comforts but by elements of love or nature.


Surfing? Write TVEye@auschron.com

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