ABC (Sun., Jan. 18, 7 p.m. ET)

C+

This nobly intentioned TV movie plays like a child's primer on race relations, but would you expect complexity from The Wonderful World of Disney? Based on a true story from the early '60s, the drama focuses on the first African-American pupil to enter the William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. When 6-year-old Ruby Bridges (Chaz Monét) walks in—protected by federal marshals from furiously hostile demonstrators—white parents pull their kids out. The segregationist boycott leaves bright Ruby literally in a class by herself, where she is taught by Barbara Henry (Penelope Ann Miller), a transplanted Boston idealist. Child psychiatrist Dr. Robert Coles (Kevin Pollak), who seems never to have heard of racism before learning of Ruby's case, volunteers to help "this little tiny adorable Negro girl" through the traumatic situation, but mostly he just marvels at her courage and good humor. Although some of the elementary dialogue will have adult viewers squirming like restless first graders ("Ruby," says the teacher, "do you know what slavery is?"), Michael Beach gives grown-up depth to the character of Ruby's father, Abon. And Monét, 7, is adorable.

PBS (Sundays, Jan. 18, Jan. 25, Feb. 1, 9 p.m. ET)

B+

Dr. Owen Springer (Robson Green) swears he's gonna love Anna Fairley (Francesca Annis) come rain or come shine (or words to that effect). As if to prove his ardor, he gets drenched three times in this six-hour contemporary miniseries on Mobil Masterpiece Theatre. Unfortunately, Anna is married to Dr. Richard Crane (Michael Kitchen), his boss at a hospital in Manchester, England. Though an adulterer in his own right, arrogant Richard refuses to let Owen have Anna without a fight—an all-out war, in fact. Sometimes it's hard to tell whether Richard and Owen are more intent on winning Anna or thwarting each other. As for the practice of medicine, they'll try to fit it in somewhere.

Writer Paul Abbott (Cracker, British version) gets the most out of this tangled affair, mixing drama and comedy while probing the differences between affluent, "40-odd" Anna and "30ish" Owen with his working-class roots. Green (a British TV and pop star getting his first American exposure) and veterans Annis and Kitchen are all fine, as is David Bradley in the part of Owen's laconic dad, Arnold. But Reckless runs out of steam in the last hour, and the story comes to a conventionally romantic, predictably wet conclusion.

WB (Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET)

C+

They look like college students, they talk like doctoral candidates (in popular culture), but they're just starting 10th grade. They're the youths of Dawson's Creek, the TV drama from fright-flick screenwriter Kevin Williamson (Scream). The series opens Jan. 20 with a shocking scene in which 15-year-old Dawson (James Van Der Beek) and his 15-year-old female buddy, Joey (Katie Holmes), discuss whether to break their childhood habit of sharing a bed. "I just think our emerging hormones are destined to alter our relationship, and I'm trying to limit the fallout," Joey says. What's shocking is that she adds not a single "like" or "you know."

A novice filmmaker, Dawson is obsessed with the oeuvre of Steven Spielberg. He works in a video store with classmate Pacey (Joshua Jackson), who cites Summer of '42 before starting an affair with his English teacher, Tamara (Leann Hunley). Dawson has eyes for Jen (Michelle Williams), a girl his own age who reveals in a future episode that she lost her virginity at 12. Attractive as well as articulate, all these high schoolers qualify for some sort of advanced placement. They're easy to watch, just a little hard to believe.

>Sally Jessy Raphaël

A MILESTONE FOR TV'S MOTHER HEN

AS HER 3,500TH EPISODE APPROACHES (Jan. 20; check local listings for time and channel), daytime talk show doyenne Sally Jessy Raphaël can easily recall her favorite. No, it wasn't one of her shows on teenage girls who dress like tramps, a perennial ratings grabber. Instead, Raphaël, 55, savors her 1990 interview with Audrey Hepburn (who died of cancer three years later). "She was so natural. And oh, how noble!" says Raphaël.

Most of her guests—jilted lovers, abused kids, feuding families—tend to be a good deal more plainspoken. "People have these problems and they feel they have no place [else] to go," says Raphaël, who offers counseling referrals and a sympathetic ear even off the set. "If I'm in a restaurant ladies' room," she says, "the woman next to me automatically tells me the story of her life."

Raphaël's own story is impressive. Starting out in San Juan, Puerto Rico, as a call-in radio show host in the '50s, she was fired from 18 jobs before Phil Donahue caught her act on an Albuquerque, N.Mex., station in 1981 and touted her to his boss. Her TV show had its debut in 1983. Raphael, who lives in Pawling, N.Y., with Karl Soderlund, her manager and husband of 32 years, recently branched out as a TV-movie producer (CBS's The Third Twin). Like her hero, the Energizer Bunny, she says, "I'm going to keep at it till they stop me."

  • Contributors:
  • Carol Crane.