TV: Has 'I'll Fly Away' Flown for Good?May 15 marked the...


May 26, 1992

TV: Has 'I'll Fly Away' Flown for Good?

May 15 marked the end of the season for the television series, "I'll Fly Away." Unfortunately, the series will probably not return next season because of its low ratings.

The failure of the show to draw an audience must not be laid at the feet of the TV critics, who universally admired the show, or the few viewers, who became ardent fans.

The failure of the show was caused by its own network, NBC, which tossed the show about like an inner-tube in a gorilla cage. First it was seen on Tuesday night, then it disappeared for several weeks to return on Friday night, occasionally being pre-empted by mostly forgettable specials. This was a stupid gambit that never allowed a viewer following to be built.

The show took place in an unnamed Southern town in the 1950s, a period of social awakening and maturing in America. The main characters covered a wide spectrum of values and needs that were overtaking the re-inventing of the country at the time.

A white lawyer is caught between his Southern traditions and his liberal conscience. He has three children, one an endearing eight-year-old who, on cue, can shed a single tear and quiver his lower lip in a manner to wither the hardest cynic.

A sub-plot of the program became the relationship between the child and his black house-keeper, played by the exquisite Regina Taylor.

Her value system and moral certitude became a strong example for him as well as all the members of that household, as, at the same time, she was learning from them. Her relationship with this family could be seen as a metaphor for the gap that exists (and can be bridged) between black culture that could never take any good fortune for granted and white culture that assumed all advantages were a given.

As our cities explode, could a TV series have ever been more timely? Here was racism examined at the most private level, that point at which two individuals of different colors must confront each other's strengths and weaknesses, knowing that not to do so imperils the survival of both. To wonder if three or four of Rodney King's jurors had been fans of this program, the verdict would have been different does not, I believe, stretch credulity.

TV executives recognize only an economic imperative and not a socially responsible obligation. Thus we are brought drama as compelling as yesterday's oatmeal; situation comedies populated with simple-minded twits; and with a straight face, they will sit you down in front of the key-hole of a celebrity's bedroom and call that "investigative journalism," never giving up their search for the lowest common denominator.

Now, without the slightest ethical compunction, these good folks have been accomplices in the loss of one of their own finest efforts.

"I'll Fly Away" was not just an entertainment. It was a reminder of forgotten lessons, an exotic plant transplanted to an alien environment. It needed to be lovingly fertilized and nurtured to survive the resistant soil in which it was planted.

Kenneth A. Willaman


Stupid Tests

The Maryland School Performance Assessment Program is emblematic of Maryland's education malady. Surprisingly, this absurd new testing program demonstrates what happens when important education funds are handed to administrators and assessors, rather than the wallets of talented and dedicated teachers.

My eighth grade son performs at the top of his advanced placement classes and has been accepted into a Johns Hopkins summer program. By contrast, my fifth grade daughter struggles to maintain average grades in regular classes. Yet neither of them is motivated to do well on the MSPP tests.

My son told me stories of how he and his other gifted classmates wrote answers like, "Beats me," and "Like I care," on the test when any analytical paragraph was required. My daughter is aware that it won't impact her grades or school placement, so she is marginally motivated.

The students are not any more motivated to perform without recognition. Most of the students in my son's class scored in the 85 percentile or higher on a Scholastic Aptitude Test they took last year. Compare their SAT scores to how they perform on the MSPP.

No wonder fewer than 2 percent of the students scored at Level 1. Even after I explained to my son that his performance may impact future funding for the schools in his county and the resources they will be able to buy, he complained about how the money would be spent.

"They won't put the money in student services or even give it to the teachers. They'll just buy more car phones and hire more people to figure out these stupid tests!" He is aware that cuts have been made in advanced programs, drivers education, summer programs.

I appeal to the state. Stop wasting our resources. Use the available funds to attract the best educators and provide them with pencils and chalk.

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