Here's a first: a Wonderful World of Disney TV movie based on a Disney World amusement-park ride and airing on a Disney-owned network. Can you say "synergy," kids? For anyone who hasn't experienced the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, be warned: DW visitors can spend up to two hours in lines that snake around the lush grounds and spooky interiors of the deserted Hollywood Tower Hotel. The payoff: a stomach-churning, 13-story drop in a "runaway" elevator. The movie version, though it builds to the same climax, is a lot tamer. Here, we spend two hours following Steve Guttenberg (and where has he been since his Three Men and a Baby-sitting days?) as an L.A. supermarket tabloid hack investigating the mysterious, long-ago disappearance of five guests from, yes, that hotel. On Halloween night, 1939, all were riding the elevator to the top floor when—shazaam!—a malefactor's evil curse zapped them into the spirit world. Now they're doomed to haunt the long-since-condemned hotel for all eternity, unless Guttenberg—aided by his perky teenage niece (Kirsten Dunst
, the child fangster from 1994's Interview with the Vampire)—can somehow reverse the curse. Alas, with ghosts as cute as Casper, the scares are all too scarce, the dialogue inane and the outcome treacly. Pray that Disney doesn't follow up with It's a Small World After All: The Movie.
PBS (Sun., Oct. 26, 9 p.m., ET)
You're half mortal, half angelic," marvels a male admirer of Helen Huntingdon, the unhappily married Victorian heroine of this lengthy (2½-hour) yet compelling Mobil Masterpiece Theatre drama. A moment later, he lecherously lunges at her. Poor Helen. It's bad enough that her chronically soused spouse, Arthur, has been openly unfaithful, plied their young son with wine and, in a drunken rage, tried to rape her. She must `also fend off Arthur's disreputable drinking companions. So, fleeing one night with her son and a loyal servant, Helen sets up a new identity as a widow in Wildfell Hall, a remote country estate.
That's where this moody adaptation of Anne Brontë's 1848 epistolary novel begins and ends. In between, a smitten neighbor manages to unearth Helen's troubled past, just as her vindictive husband discovers her idyllic hideaway. Anne Brontë may not be in the same league as big sisters Charlotte (Jane Eyre) and Emily (Wuthering Heights), but the performances here are first-rate. As the saintly, emotionally scarred Helen, Tara Fitzgerald (Brassed Off) is luminously affecting. And with his matinee-idol looks, Rupert Graves (A Room with a View) makes the vile Arthur so boyishly irresistible that even an angel would melt in his arms.
The Discovery Channel (Mon., Oct. 27, 8 p.m. ET)
If Kamots, the leader of a pack of eight wolves prowling the Idaho wilderness, decides that one of his brethren is biting off a bit more moose carcass than he—or she—should chew, he'll wrap his teeth around the offender's neck. And yet whenever a plucky wildlife cinematographer named Jim Dutcher approaches the pack, Kamots will trot over and extend his paw in friendship. Say, what kind of wolf is this? One of a kind, it turns out. Dutcher and his photographer wife, Jamie, raised Kamots and his kin as pups in captivity, starting in 1991, then set them loose as they got older to roam free in a fenced-in, 25-acre reservation along Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains. Over the next six years the Dutchers captured candid footage of the wolves at play, nurturing their young (Kamots and his mate Chemukh produce a litter of three) and jockeying for position in a strictly controlled hierarchy. Your heart goes out to Lakota, the sad sack of the pack, who always has to eat last.
ABC (Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m. ET)
Not since Tim Curry camped it up as the cross-dressing Dr. Frank N. Furter in 1975's cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show has the zanier side of the British actor—and veteran screen heavy—been fully exploited. He finally gets to cut loose in this goofy new sitcom (premiere: Oct. 21). Curry is cast, in almost gleeful self-parody, as Simon Ferguson, an insufferably preening soap opera star whose character has just been killed off. Broke and out of work, he brazenly ensconces himself in the penthouse of a Manhattan hotel owned by Hadley Martin (Annie Potts), a thrice-wed single mother of two—and Simon's ex-wife of 20 years ago. Basically, he's hoping to sponge off her. Oddly (since they were only married 12 days), she lets him stick around. Potts and Curry seem awkward together. The best exchanges, in fact, are between Simon and Hadley's smart-aleck 7-year-old son, Daniel (Luke Tarsitano), which allow Curry to luxuriate in his trademark sly malice. Daniel: "Want to see my rock collection?" Simon: "Only if I can hit myself with them until I lose consciousness." There's potential here—if the writers resist the temptation to make Simon more lovable. Uncurdled Curry would be a hard act to swallow.
Terry Kelleher is on vacation
JOINING THE FIRST DIRECTORS' CLUB
JUST HOW HARD WAS GOLDIE HAWN'S debut as a film director? Child's play. "Sometimes on the set [in Texas last June], you'd have a question, and you'd find her playing with her son Wyatt," recalls J.T. Walsh, who stars (with Christine Lahti, Catherine O'Hara and Jena Malone) in Hope, a coming-of-age drama that premiered Oct. 19 on TNT (with repeat viewings on Oct. 23, 26, 29 and Nov. 1). "It was great," says Walsh, who plays a racist movie theater owner in a 1962 southern town. "She makes no distinction between living her life and doing her work."
Hawn, 51, agrees. "I discovered that I could direct and still make time for my family," says the actress, who, besides Wyatt, 11, her son with companion Kurt Russell, 46, is mother to Kate, 18, and Oliver, 21, her children with ex-husband Bill Hudson.
Hope sprang to life as a result of a short story Hawn wrote in 1993 about the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. "It was the first time I realized we could all die," says the Washington-area native. In 1994, after a similarly themed script by Kerry Kennedy caught her eye, Hawn snapped it up and took the project to TNT, offering herself as director. She's glad she did. "I like it," she says of the movie, "and what others feel about it is just another plus or minus." Still, directing "could never be a vocation for me," she says. "I love being spontaneous. When you're directing, you have to be there all the time."
- Craig Tomashoff.
ABC (Sun., Oct. 26, 7 p.m. ET)