PBS (Wed., May 29, 9 P.M. ET)
The man who will be King wrote and narrates this program, billed as "a personal view of the environment." Traveling to Hong Kong, Scotland, Indonesia and Florida, he paints a bleak picture of pollution's impact and of the ineluctable result of unchecked industrial expansion. He also doesn't shy away from thorny issues, such as how developed countries can reasonably ask the Third World not to plunder its most valuable possession: natural resources.
While humbly acknowledging that "I am, to say the least, no scientific expert," he urges us to adopt a sustainable approach to our future, to examine "the role we humans have to play as stewards of the earth."
Though the Prince has at times been portrayed as a bit dotty, he proves himself a thoughtful, provocative host.
NBC (Fridays, 1:30 A.M. ET)
In its ninth season—how time flies when you're lolling in the Barcalounger flicking a channel changer—network television's only music-video show has made an overdue format change. They've dumped the rotating celebrity hosts for a permanent personality, Tom Kenny.
Yeah, Kenny looks kind of Buddy Holly geeky and he's on the writing staff of Americas Funniest People. But don't hold that against him. Perhaps best known as the opening act for fellow comic Bobcat Goldthwait, he adds a hip, music-oriented sense of humor to the show.
That means lots of New Kids skewering, in-joke references to the water bottle scene in Madonna
's Truth or Dare and gibes at Linda McCartney's expense ("Whew, brutal, isn't it," he says after airing a concert tape of "Hey Jude" with Linda's background mike turned all the way up. "Proof that you can have all the money in the world and still be really tone-deaf").
The holdovers from the previous format are the predictable selections of Top 40 clips and New York City disc jockey Frankie Crocker, who handles all the interviews with music and TV stars. Even though Kenny has finally given this show an identity, the irrepressible cutup apparently can't be trusted around the guests.
MTV (Sundays, 7:30 P.M. ET)
Humor, on the other hand, has never worked too well on MTV, whether it's the lame veejay patter or whole shows supposedly devoted to comedy, such as the excruciating Idiot Box. The channel whiffs again with this animated sketch show.
The concepts are lame—a soap-opera spoof features (stop it, you're killing me) real bars of soap. The best segment is a megaviolent but fairly cool comic-book action serial with a gun-toting heroine titled "Aeon Flux."
The story lines in these sketches are intentionally opaque. ("But Mr. Z, all these murders. Is it right in go sightseeing while killers are loose?" says one character to her turbaned and eye-patched companion in a typically unexplained and out-of-context conversation. Who are these people? What murders?) But the harsh animation seems derived from the look of underground comic books, and the whole jumbled program is too subterranean.
TNT (Sun., June 2, 8 P.M. ET)
In another monumental piece of work from Sir David Attenborough, the British naturalist turns the cameras on animal behavior and the amazingly creative strategies for survival.
His study begins with nature's strongest instinct: propagation. We see the diverse, often elaborate methods by which members of various species enter this world. Subsequent chapters (the 12-hour documentary airs over six consecutive nights) examine care of the young, food procurement, homemaking, socialization, fighting, migration and communication, then return full circle to courting and mating.
The footage, examining species from termites to killer whales, is extraordinary. Attenborough seems to take special delight in nature's opportunists, such as the frigate birds that mug other avian species in midflight, intercepting them as they return to their nests with beaks full of fish. If there is a villain, it must be the seagull family, which is repeatedly shown to be a nasty breed indeed.
As in Attenborough's previous offerings Life on Earth and The Living Planet, this course is visually stunning, informative and fascinating to watch. Good thing man has no predators to fear anymore. They'd only have to wait until we were all wrapped up in this remarkable program and then walk up behind us and bop us on the head. We'd never know what hit us.
CBS (Sundays, 8 P.M. ET)
In this simpy summer replacement series created by Norman Lear, Robert (Mancuso, F.B.I.) Loggia plays a 56-year-old widower who falls for a 30-year-old beauty, played by Teri (Tango and Cash) Hatcher. She's a cosmic cadet who talks to God directly, addressing the Deity, as Jimmy Olsen did Perry White, as Chief.
The unlikely romance greatly upsets Loggia's three grown children: a neurotic doctoral candidate (Martha Gehman), a dim bimbette (Kari Lizer) and a get-rich-quick schemer (Patrick Breen) who keeps uttering labored malaprops like "a consommé most devoutly to be wished." Marian (It's a Living) Mercer plays Loggia's sister, the rarely heard voice of reason.
This anti-Norman Rockwell tableau of a sitcom might not seem so overwritten, unconvincingly acted and unfunny if each of the first six shows weren't followed immediately by an early episode of Lear's classic All in the Family. That programming tandem only emphasizes how undernourishing Sunday Dinner is.
A & E(Sun., June 2, 8 P.M. ET)
In a smashing film involving the supernatural, Albert Finney plays an innkeeper in the chic British countryside who is also a full-blown boozing womanizer.
Thanks to a wonderful script by Malcolm Bradbury—adapted from fellow novelist Kingsley Amis's book—Finney is also something of poet. His tantalizing descriptions of meals are absolutely lewd: "A sensual coupling of lobster with slender lone points of asparagus served in a champagne and truffle sauce...firm but succulent breasts of quail stuffed with pigeon and grape mousse caressed in a penetrable warmth until tender, then laid on a bed of scented vegetables and fungi served with a wild berry sauce."
This zestful Commandment-breaker is getting disturbing visits from a former inhabitant of the building, a decadent 17th-century cleric who promises, "I will show you the true shape of your desires."
Before the part gradually begins to get away from him in the third and final hour, Finney gives a ravishingly ardent performance.
Linda Marlowe, Sarah Berger and Michael Hordern costar in the movie, which is suitable only for adults. (The mix of pagan mysticism, suspense and quirky rural behavior recalls the 1973 film The Wicker Man.) The BBC tends to be a good deal more explicit than our networks. The Chief only knows why.
Fish wanna fly; birds wanna swim. It's a crazy, covetous world we live in. So Phil Donahue keeps making noises about quitting television to run for public office (though after all those years of sprinting up and down the studio aisles with a microphone, Phil is probably better trained for an Olympic relay team). Meanwhile glottal global statesman Henry Kissinger fulfills a secret fantasy by acting as a weatherman on a morning show (see page 100). Now, that was worth tuning in for. It's so rare on TV that you see someone who is intellectually overqualified for his job.