Picks and Pans Main: Video

updated 09/18/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/18/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

As any watcher of TV commercials or print ads knows, people love to take advice from celebrities—ad agencies think they do, anyway. These tapes may try to tap that gullibility by using showbiz hosts, but the hosts in question all have at least a passing expertise in the subjects they're discussing.

RAND MCNALLY VIDEOTRIPS

Before Lorne Greene rode off into the sunset he stopped in Alaska to guide viewers over that rugged Ponderosa known as the Land of the Midnight Sun. That visit is one in a new series of travel videos, and tourists who are planning a first trip to the 49th state can profit from Greene's advice as recorded on this 51-minute tape. His tour begins in Ketchikan on the southeast panhandle and moves northwestward as far as Nome. Along the way there are quick stops in Sitka, Juneau, Skagway (a resting place for 19th-century prospectors en route to the Yukon), Anchorage, Palmer, Fairbanks and Valdez (not yet blackened by the Exxon oil spill when this tape was made in 1986). Alaska's beauty, however, lies not in its cities, but in its wilderness, its acres of downy mountains, frosty glaciers and unfriendly forests. The best vantage point, says Greene, is by boat. Take a cruise up the Inside Passage and don't forget your camera.

Archival photos and watercolors pep up Greene's mini history lessons as he narrates a tour of totem poles, old-time saloons and Russian villages that recall earlier settlers who inhabited the territory before Secretary of State William Seward bought it, in 1867, for two cents an acre. Greene's tour suggests that beyond its natural splendors, Alaska's charm is limited unless you have a yen for rough river rafting, salmon fishing, scrimshaw collecting or just want to kick around a last frontier in a pair of mukluk boots.

In New York, however, Tony Randall points out that "the only thing missing is boredom." This 54-minute exploration of Manhattan is among the best of Rand McNally's 17 Video Trips. Randall, who lives in New York, is a savvy guide with just the right touch of brash to match the city he is showing off. This tour is best taken with notepad at hand, as Randall reels off points of interest while camera shots crisscross the island. The true tourist will want to start with the view from atop the Empire State Building; romantics who don't mind the moist tang of horse manure will love a clip-clop hansom-cab trip through Central Park. Midtown Manhattan offers window shopping, Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick's Cathedral. Randall points out not-to-be-missed museums, such cultural icons as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center and more. The tour speeds through Times Square (mentioning its theaters, but not its thieves, drug dealers and pornographers) and such ethnic neighborhoods as Chinatown and Little Italy. And just when you want to soak your feet, Tony tosses in a dash of history, architectural notes and tips on getting discounts, taking taxis and that all-important side trip to Atlantic City.

While the tape shows a New York that seems cleaner and safer than the real thing, Randall admits that the city's subways "can be dirty and noisy" and concludes, as all the tapes in this series do, with details on how to get there, what to pack, where to stay and whom to ask for more information.

In Washington D.C. it's "of Willard Scott," fresh carnation in his lapel, poised to take viewers on a folksy 50-minute journey of the nation's capital. Scott's credentials as guide: He lives in nearby Delaplane, Va., and started his TV career in Washington. Willard seasons his tour with anecdotes about our forefathers who built America's seat of government on what was once soggy marshland bordering the Potomac River. Major tourist attractions such as the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials are dutifully displayed, as are the White House, Capitol and the edifices housing the Supreme Court, the FBI and the Defense Department. There are also quick glimpses of museums, galleries and spots to take the kids. Don't miss the bean soup at the Capitol cafeteria, says Willard, and, please, do leave your short shorts at home. What would George Washington think of all that exposed flesh?

Scott's expedition spills out of D.C. into Virginia: Arlington (home of Robert E. Lee and resting place of multitudes in its military cemetery), Alexandria, Mount Vernon, Williamsburg and into Maryland—the Naval Academy at Annapolis and Chesapeake Bay. Scott's is a skim-the-surface tour, but it offers a peek at the sights available to those planning a visit.

Annette Funicello's 54-minute pilgrimage to Central Florida is the least informative of these four. As a guide to the Sunshine State, Funicello, who lives in California, narrates as if she were telling a bedtime story. Viewers may just want to nod off. The trip begins on the Gulf Coast, in Tampa and St. Petersburg, saunters down to Sarasota, back up to Orlando and settles at the Kennedy Space Center on the east coast. It is an uninspired journey, impeded by a banal script and trite camera shots.

Disney World looks dull, Shamu the Killer Whale has no pizzazz, and footage of celebrated gardens, racetracks and circus museums does a disservice to the real thing. In the end Annette's singsong patter makes you feel more like staying home and whipping up a platter of peanut butter sandwiches. (Best Home Video; $19.99 each; 800-527-2189)

EAT THIS NO. 2

To watch this tape of cooking tips by Dom DeLuise you have to put up with the film crew's imitation of an insipid laugh track. There are also pointless cameos by such DeLuise cronies as Carol Burnett, Carl Reiner and Burt Reynolds. (DeLuise asks Reynolds to taste something, and he sneers, "This tastes like s—.")

But the recipes DeLuise passes along, many of which originated with his late mother, Vicenza, are appetizing, manageable and efficiently presented. Watching DeLuise prepare his rigatoni with broccoli (cooked in butter, olive oil, garlic and chicken broth), for instance, will make you want to head right for the kitchen. A mozzarella-vegetabie frittata, crispelli (fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar or honey), eggplant rolls stuffed with cheese, and braciole (pounded, rolled beef) will get the gastric juices flowing as well. DeLuise includes a variation on basic tomato sauce he says he learned from singer Caterina Valente; its main variants are black olives and capers.

The 40-minute tape, which is the second in a four-tape series, ends with the recipes (all from DeLuise's 1988 book Eat This...It'll Make You Feel Better!) displayed onscreen so they can be copied by using a VCR's "pause" function. (Healing Arts, $19.95 each; 800-722-7347)

PAT BOONE HITS THE ROAD

All right, who's doing that sarcastic cheering? This is a tape about getting away, but only in the recreational vehicle sense. Boone, an "RVer" for 30 years (among 25 million in the U.S., he estimates), is enthusiastic as he discusses factors to consider if you're interested in buying an RV.

This tape is only for the committed. There is no mention of how to decide if you really need an RV in the first place—or how to balance the costs of motels versus the costs of a trailer or vehicle, for example. And nowhere is a miles-per-gallon figure even hinted at, either for self-propelled vehicles or those that require towing.

Boone, his wife, Shirley, and their grandchildren (by daughter Lindy), Jessie and Ryan, mostly shop for, travel in and look at various vehicles. The prices, Pat says, range from $1,500 to $500,000. He oversells-"It's an estate!" he says of a modest trailer. "I drool over this one," he says of a converted van. "This has got a sensual feel to it."

Still, in 53 minutes, an RV shopper not only gets a close look at many possibilities but hears a few bars of "April Love" and "Love Letters in the Sand" in the bargain. (M.R.S., $29.95; 800-288-8978)

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