Televising the creative process is tricky, but PBS tries

Media monitor

April 02, 1992|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

If the wind is a good metaphor for the process of creativity, as asserted by a PBS series premiering tonight, the breeze blows only fitfully through "The Creative Spirit."

The hourlong show, first of three weekly parts, can be seen at 8 tonight on Washington's WETA (Channel 26) and at 11 p.m. on Maryland Public Television.

Ambitious in conception -- seeking no less than an answer to how creativity happens -- the premiere episode stirs some zephyrs of interest but also falls calm at least as often.

Perhaps the program proves the Buddhist notion, as explained by a scholar in tonight's installment, that true creativity is "to be no-minded" -- in other words, to not think consciously but to do intuitively.

Making television demands too much concrete thought for that, especially toward providing visual ways to illustrate the non-visual process of thought.

Thus we have a curious combination of views from weighty academicians, popular stars such as Patty Duke, Marlee Matlin, Jane Curtin and Steve Allen, and even cartoon characters, including carnivore Wile E. Coyote.

Indeed, animator Chuck Jones suggests his hapless predator's relentless pursuit of the Road Runner may represent the human condition, for "he just keeps trying."

Parts of the show do sparkle with their own creativity, including saxophonist Benny Golson's musical theme and its accompanying abstract animation.

And the show also breaks free from the perception that creativity is an entirely mental process, by concentrating on a variety of athletic and other predominantly physical skills, including rock climbing, dance and even the manipulative genius of delicate surgery.

But for too many long periods, viewers may find themselves longing for something more creative to do with their time.

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HUMOR HAPPENS -- Devotees of public television's frequent sharing of the sometimes peculiar English sense of humor, particularly as illustrated by the droll comedy "Blackadder" a few years back, may want to tune in "Mr. Bean" on the HBO premium cable service.

Weekly editions of comedian Rowan Atkinson's brand of sketch comedy can now be seen beginning at 7:30 tonight.

And in contrast to the title character he played on "Blackadder," a thoroughly detestable cad with a sharp, sharp tongue, Atkinson's Mr. Bean is a more silent, physical comedy character most reminiscent of Red Skelton's best characterizations.

In tonight's premiere, for example, he portrays a cheating test-taker, a sleepy church-goer and a man trying to change into a swimsuit at a public beach -- he does so in astonishing contortive style.

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On The Weekend Watch:

FROM ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE -- All subjects, not just women's issues, fall under the gaze of "To the Contrary," Maryland Public Television's new weekly news/discussion series intended for PBS distribution, making its debut at 8 tonight. But the female perspective is nonetheless the point, with columnist/host Bonnie Erbe welcoming a rotating panel of woman commentators.

IN THE BULLPEN -- Cable viewers with access to the HomeTeam Sports service can check out the new Oriole Park at Camden Yards before opening day. HTS is screening tomorrow's 3 p.m. exhibition game with the New York Mets from the new stadium. And for those waiting for Opening Day, weekend previews include Channel 2 coverage at noon Sunday of "The Camden Yards Parade," an "Orioles Report" special on Channel 13 at noon Sunday and an hourlong season preview special, "Orioles Season Opener," at 7 p.m. Sunday on Channel 2.

ON THE COURTS -- Once a 64-team tourney, the annual "NCAA Basketball Tournament" is down to the Final Four, with semifinal games from Minneapolis on CBS Saturday (Channel 11). Game 1 at 5:30 p.m. pits Cincinnati against Michigan. Game 2 at 8 p.m. offers Indiana vs. defending champ Duke. (The championship game is on CBS Monday night.)

AT THE MOVIES -- The Fox network (Channel 45) offers its latest original film on Friday at 8 p.m. In "LIVE! From Death Row," Joanna Cassidy stars as a TV newswoman who goes inside death row for a story, only to be captured by the condemned serial killer she's interviewing (Bruce Davison). So who will sit in the chair for the first nationally televised execution?

IN THE MOVIES -- According to the American Film Institute, actor Sidney Poitier is responsible "for opening doors so that today the United States has the beginnings of a richer and more diverse film industry." Hence, Saturday night's tribute on NBC, the "AFI Life Achievement Award," with Harry Belafonte as host.

OFF THE AIR -- Do you like "The Boys of Twilight"? The CBS (Channel 11) spring series about a pair of old law men in the modern West reaches the end of its tryout run Saturday at 10 p.m., as Bill and Cody (Wilford Brimley and Richard Farnsworth) try to find out who is phoning bomb threats to the local grocer.

ON THE AIR -- Two new series reach the schedule on Sunday. On NBC (Channel 2) at 8 p.m., "Mann & Machine" features a science-fiction twist on the odd-couple-cops genre: In the near future, David Andrews is a traditional detective teamed with a female cyborg (Yancy Butler) who has super-human intelligence but the emotional level of a 7-year-old. And on Fox (Channel 45) at 11 p.m., the sitcom "Stand by Your Man" stars comic Rosie O'Donnell and actress Melissa Gilbert-Brinkman (remember "Little House on the Prairie"?) as two New Jersey sisters who move in together after their husbands are imprisoned for bank robbery.

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