"Lifestories," NBC's well-intentioned medical anthology that's been lost in the ratings on Sunday nights, begins its life as a series of specials tonight with an eloquent hour on AIDS.
D.W. Moffett stars as Steve Burdick, a popular, hard-working anchorman on a local television station in the fictional "Our Town" setting for these dramas that take the point of view of the patient in telling their medical tales.
Burdick's elevation to the anchor position coincided with a rise in his station's ratings. He was always the last one to leave the office and the first to volunteer for community activities. Seemingly too busy to have a personal life, he has actually carefully and discreetly kept the fact that he is gay separated from his professional persona.
Then comes the phone call about a guy he used to go out with in college, years ago, who has AIDS. Then Burdick and his lover drive a discreet distance away and get tested under false names. They are both HIV positive.
Then his lover dies one of the excruciating deaths that await some of those who have this virus in their blood. And finally Burdick can keep his lives separate no more. He had been distracted on the air for weeks, he had lost his anchor position, and, in the midst of one of his special assignment reports, he breaks off and tells the audience of his lover's death and his own health status.
Inevitably, psychic bombs go off at the station. The general manager yanks him off the air. There's a lot of talk about "family values," as if abandoning someone who is suffering from a fatal disease is one of the values we should be propagating.
But the phone calls keep coming and Burdick returns to the air to do a series of reports on AIDS, much as a TV reporter in San Francisco did, a case that the script alludes to.
There are continuing conflicts between Burdick's on-the-air stance and the station's general manager, played by Wayne Tippett, one of the biggest due to the media's predeliction for focusing on AIDS in kids as if these are the only true victims of the disease because they are not to "blame" for getting it. In between is the news director, well played by Joyce Hyser, trying to moderate the disputes.
All along, Burdick is receiving treatment as Robert Prosky's voice of the narrator gives an intelligent, informative and understandable accounting on the medical status of AIDS, as "Lifestories" does in each episode for the condition that afflicts its central character.
But "Lifestories" is much more than a medical show and this hour, that will be on Channel 2 (WMAR) tonight at 10 o'clock, shows the full range of problems that Burdick faces, the double-whammy prejudice that accompanies coming out as a gay with AIDS, including parents who seem more ashamed that their son is homosexual than they are concerned that he is dying.
But Burdick is not painted as perfect. His occasional bouts of militancy and an obstinate refusal to compromise are seen as damaging to the message he is trying to deliver.