The most interesting thing about "A Place of Skulls," a ne environmental documentary premiering on cable tonight, is simply the irony of its subject matter: a safari in Africa, but one in which the quarry is human, not beast.
Actually, the central point is that some humans are behaving in beastly, inhumane fashion by savagely hunting to the verge of extinction the continent's population of majestic elephants.
"A Place of Skulls" can be seen at 10:15 p.m. on basic cable's TBS network (with a repeat Oct. 8). Narrated by actor James Coburn, it covers in cinema verite style one patrol of a Zimbabwe military unit called One Para. The soldiers pick up the trail of a group of poachers known as Renamo and, finally, confront them in a deadly gun battle.
There may yet be hope for a species which goes to war to save another species, although Coburn makes clear that the poachers are also infamous for terrorizing and killing humans in their quest for ivory.
Unfortunately, the show itself is pretty plodding, with long sequences of soldiers on the move across the rough terrain. And while the climactic battle is realistic and obviously photographed as it happened, it is a confusing affair of noise and movement.
Two network series return with fresh fall fare tonight, both on ABC (Channel 13): "Coach" at 9:30 and "thirtysomething" at 10. But you have to wonder about a scheduling oddity involving Ken Olin who, as Michael, has a central role in the "thirtysomething" premiere with the pending birth of a son. For Olin is also starring opposite himself in "Good Night, Sweet Wife," the made-for-TV dramatization of Boston's sensational Stuart murder case, on rival CBS (at 9 o'clock, Channel 11).
* So what do you do when a scheduled West Coast guest fails to show up in the wee hours for a live interview on a morning public affairs show? You find a live body, any live body, as "CBS This Morning" did yesterday.
Co-host Paula Zahn was asking officials in three Springfields across the nation to assess the impact of an economic recession on their communities. When she turned to Springfield, Ore., however, she noted the planned guest had failed to show and interviewed instead the local TV station's cameraman about his financial perspective. Hey, he was up at 5 a.m. (Pacific time) for the shoot already, wasn't he?
* Secretaries should zing Disney CEO Michael Eisner for some throwback chauvinism. Introducing The Disney Channel's feature film premiere of "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" Sunday night, Eisner was himself shrunk to tiny size through camera trickery. Noting a huge coffee cup on his desk, he said, "My secretary would love it; she'd only have to fill it once a month."
Do secretaries still do coffee for their bosses? And must they be female?