HBO airs a half-hour docudrama tonight that is so enlightened, socially responsible and ultimately moving that you want to stand up and cheer.
"First Love, Fatal Love," at 8 tonight on HBO, is about a young woman who becomes infected with the AIDS virus while at college.
The show opens with a couple of minutes of dramatization from the life of Kim Frey. She's four years out of college, has a good job and her own apartment. As she says in voice-over, "I was really on my way."
But one of the messages on her answering machine in that opening sequence is from her doctor. He wants to speak to her about the results of a blood test.
The brief dramatization ends at this point, and the real Kim Frey is shown on screen. "I'm not an actor," she tells us. She says she is someone "infected with the AIDS virus."
Ms. Frey then reintroduces us to the dramatization -- a beautifully crafted reconstruction (starring Alexandra Auder as Frey) of the relationship five years before at college that resulted in her becoming infected.
The 20-minute sequence is to most television docudrama what haiku is to the long-winded, puffed-up poetry of, say, Lord Byron. Some of the scenes seem almost chiseled, they are so focused and crisp.
And yet it captures all the lyricism and exquisite sense of possibility that a first love away at college can be. If you have forgotten that dreamy and daring feeling, it will all come back when you see Frey and her friend, Michael (Jad Mager), share their first slow dance in a college bar.
The real Kim Frey returns at the end of the program. "Michael gave me love," she says. "He made me laugh. He was a wonderful friend."
She says she also contracted the virus from Michael because she did not practice safe sex. She tells us how different her life is now.
"Having sex is up to you," she says. "If you do have sex, practice safe sex. That's sex with a condom, sex that doesn't kill." She also tells viewers to get themselves tested.
The greatness of this show is that HBO is taking television's ability to celebrate sex and love in the dramatization and then using the real-life bookends to emphasize the consequences of irresponsible sexual activity. Television is the great authority figure in American culture -- especially for young viewers. And HBO is using that, too.
"First Love, Fatal Love" repeats April 15, 20, 25 and 28. Don't miss it. This is one cable's finer moments. It shows television's potential to be a great and responsible social force in our lives.
NBC's "A Different World" also has an episode on AIDS this week, airing at 8:30 Thursday night on WMAR-TV (Channel 2). It is produced by Bill Cosby and guest-stars Whoopi Goldberg as a college professor who finds out one of her students has AIDS. It was not available for preview.