Here's a variation on the old philosophical question about a tree falling in the forest with nobody around to hear: If it isn't on television, does an ancient holiday truly exist any longer?
This may be a too-serious contemplation of the approach of Halloween, but blame the radio documentary "Soundprint." Tonight in "The Time Between," one of the show's regular explorations of American holiday customs, we hear some provocative recollections of observing the transition between fall and winter. (The Baltimore-produced show premieres at 6 p.m. on WJHU-FM 88.1 and repeats at 6 p.m. next Friday, with national distribution on stations of the American Public Radio network).
Now take a look at TV's ritual scheduling of Halloween themes all over the place, add the knowledge that trick-or-treating by children (among other types of observances, such as in schools) seems to be on the wane, and you can agree with a woman speaker in the show who frets we are abandoning seasonal rituals, "which are deeply important for cultural sanity."
"It felt good just to be out there," stresses one man about the once-a-year thrill of trick-or-treating on crisp dark autumn nights.
Yet for a variety of reasons, some of them sadly justified, many kids today trick-or-treat before the sun goes down (trailed by adults) or -- horrors! -- from store to store in climate-controlled shopping malls.
Reality has intruded, too. Hospitals offer X-rays of candy to FTC discover concealed razor blades, and one young speaker says his personal fears include a maniac with an assault rifle visiting his school, as well as nuclear war. Whatever happened to the Bogey Man?
Thus in a screamingly funny sequence recorded in a haunted house, when a genuinely terrified young voice is heard moaning, don't want to do this anymore," it is possible to take the sentiment literally.
So where does TV come into the picture? As a surrogate for real experience, or at least as a safe place to collectively share cultural commonalities.
Actually, the move away from Halloween as the special time we adults remember is the subject of tonight's edition of NBC's "Parenthood," as fretful father Gil (Ed Begley Jr.) tries to recreate a traditional observance for his kids.
ABC's "Life Goes On" tomorrow (7 p.m., Channel 13) is another series adopting a Halloween theme this weekend, and numerous shows will be offering haunted episodes in the coming week.
Then there are the movies on TV, and not just from the recent "Halloween" series of horrors (such as "Halloween III," at 2 p.m. today on WNUV-Channel 54.)
Among some favorites which sweep onto the air this time of year are the classic 1943 "Phantom of the Opera" (with Claude Rains, at 3:35 p.m. today on pay-cable's The Movie Channel), "Creepshow" (George Romero's fond tribute to 1950s horror flicks, at 8 tonight on Channel 54) and "Love at First Bite" (George Hamilton in a 1979 spoof, airing at 10 tonight on Channel 54 and also at 4 p.m. tomorrow on WJZ-Channel 13).
Although not strictly about Halloween, one of Channel 54's occasional Sunday theme afternoons is certainly about forces beyond the supernatural: an eight-hour presentation tomorrow of episodes of "The Outer Limits," the hour-long 1963-65 ABC series that provocatively dealt with the possibilities of extra-terrestrial life.
Among the stars in the eight episodes scheduled, beginning at noon with the series' opener, "The Galaxy Being," are Cliff Robertson, William Shatner and Carroll O'Connor.
Finally, on Sunday night, cable's TBS offers a special Halloween edition of "National Geographic Explorer" (at 9 on the basic service). Included are a fascinating look at the world's real vampires, the livestock marauding vampire bats of Trinidad, along with features on Steve Kutcher, the "insect wrangler" who trains bugs to act in such movies as "Arachnophobia," and the Thai custom of drinking snake blood as an aphrodisiac and cure-all.
STRIKE UP THE BAND: They tramped over the Towson State University stadium grass last weekend, but the 15 high school marching bands that participated in the "6th Annual Marching Band Showcase" can be seen again twice this weekend on cable.
Baltimore County's Comcast system will repeat its coverage of the event at 1 p.m. today and 6 p.m. tomorrow on The Education Channel (Channel 36). Additional showings are also due throughout the coming months.
GET OUT THE VOTE: What if the gave an election and nobody came? This year's primaries in Maryland came close to demonstrating.
But in the interest of a responsible electorate, Maryland Public Television tomorrow is airing a two-hour edition of "Voters Ask!" at 1 p.m. (Channels 22 and 67). The show is a taped series of interviews with candidates for the House of Representatives, and kicks off a week of MPT examinations of local election issues.