Networks climb aboard patriotism bandwagon

April 03, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

It is television as national cheerleader.

Sunday night, HBO threw its "Welcome Home Heroes" concert with Whitney Houston for those who served in the Persian Gulf. "America's proudest moment, HBO's most memorable event," was how the cable channel described it.

Tonight at 8 on WBAL-TV (Channel 11), CBS offers its version with an "All-Star Salute for Our Troops," live from Andrews Air Force Base. Scheduled guests and celebrities include the Judds, Randy Travis, Charlton Heston, Tony Orlando and the Navy Glee Club.

NBC and ABC have similar events scheduled.

At 9:30 p.m. Saturday on WMAR-TV (Channel 2), NBC offers "Bob Hope's Yellow Ribbon Party." The NBC ads describe the event as, "Now it's official! Bob Hope welcomes the troops back home. Bob throws open his Palm Springs home to hundreds of Desert Storm veterans and their families for the biggest barbecue bash ever!" The talent includes: Delta Burke, Gerald McRaney, Jimmy Stewart and Brooke Shields.

And at 9 p.m. April 14, ABC will air its "Welcome Home, America!" concert, which is being taped Friday at the Universal Amphitheatre in Universal City, Calif. ABC claims it has George Bush, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf (via satellite from the Mideast) as part of its lineup.

The hills are alive with the sound of patriotic music, and the tube is awash in a sea of red, white and blue video bunting these days.

Beyond the flood of specials, there are the videos. Everybody has one in the stores or on the way.

ABC has a Schwarzkopf video in production with a Peter Jennings introduction titled "How the War Was Won." The network also has a six-part video series due out in May.

NBC has two videos scheduled to be released later this month. CBS has a three-hour video package on the way, "Desert Triumph: The Complete Story of the Persian Gulf War." And, just as it was first in coverage of the war itself, CNN already has one "Desert Storm" video in the stores and another in the works.

Then there are the locally produced video salutes, such as Channel 11's "Welcome Home" video.

And what about the TV commercials? Chevrolet, which seems to have always kept a red-white-and-blue theme within its commercials ("The Heartbeat of America)," may be the most plugged in to the emotions many are feeling as a result of the Allied victory in the gulf. But there are lots of others, like Delta airlines, tapping into the same river of emotion.

It is far too early to judge this development in our culture. But there were a few things about Houston's concert Sunday, for example, that seem worth noting.

First, it was not "HBO's most memorable event." It was a pretty mechanical performance by Houston. And, though Houston may super-patriotic, let's not ignore the commercial advantage for her: It launched her national tour with a promo punch she couldn't buy.

Second, TV appeals to emotions, not intellect. These are feel-good shows aimed at the gut. We need to be careful how we use our cherished symbols in such a medium.

It made me uncomfortable, for example, to see a crowd of people waving American flags in time to the music while Houston sang, "I Wanna Dance With Somebody." Patriotism reduced to flag waving at a pop concert event is like television covering war as a sporting event. TV tends to force everything it covers into entertainment formulas.

We should feel gratitude to the men and women who served in the gulf. There is little doubt about that. But we understand so little about the power of television at this point in our national history. Maybe the tube should not be the main way we collectively express those feelings.

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TV gulf salutes

Tonight: 8 p.m., WBAL-TV (Channel 11): "All-Star Salute for Our Troops."

Saturday: 9:30 p.m., WMAR-TV (Channel 2): "Bob Hope's Yellow Ribbon Party."

April 14: 9 p.m., WJZ-TV (Channel 13): "Welcome Home, America!"

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