Two things seem certain about Siberia: It's a tough place to visit, and you wouldn't want to live there.
But a surprising number of people do -- live there, that is -- and the latest edition of "ABC's World of Discovery" tonight at 8 p.m. on Channel 13 takes viewers on a visit to the coldest significantly inhabited corner of the world.
In "Survive Siberia," narrator Linda Hunt invites us aboard the nuclear-powered ice breaker Arctica for a trip from Murmansk to Pewek, above the Arctic Circle. It's a rescue mission to free a convoy of supply ships from heavy pack ice.
Their arrival is vital to Pewek, population 35,000, where conditions are so severe that no food can grow. The average winter temperature is 54 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, and the permafrost -- the layer of frozen soil -- extends 1,000 feet deep.
Caverns are cut into the subsurface to provide natural freezers for reindeer meat, the primary source of protein for residents. One segment of the show films the annual reindeer roundup and cuts quickly to a factory where the meat supply is turned into sausage.
We also see school children taking daily doses of ultraviolet light treatments, gathering in a room wearing nothing but underwear and protective dark goggles. Because the sun never shines for long periods of time in the Arctic winter, the treatments help stave off the disease of rickets, caused by lack of Vitamin C from normal sun exposure.
This "Discovery Special" is a production of documentarian Dennis B. Kane, who previously produced TV specials for National Geographic, and the show has the feel of a long article in the familiar yellow magazine.
The unprecedented access to the area, granted production crews last year, has produced an occasionally disjointed collection of striking images. The narrative does not always succeed in linking them in a historical continuum, but they remain striking -- just as some of the magazine photos stick with you even when you haven't read the accompanying text.
Many of the residents are survivors or descendants of prisoners sent into exile by dictator Joseph Stalin. A short historical segment on the infamous Koymar Road includes the estimate that 10 million people died here during the political repression.
Other residents, however, are here for the money, working in natural gas plants, oil fields and gold mines for triple the wages they could earn in other parts of the former Soviet Union.
And the influx of new populations has inevitably brought the modern threats of environmental consequences to a uniquely fragile part of the world.
On The Weekend Watch:
TYSON TALKS -- The CBS news show "Street Stories" offers the first interview from prison tonight at 9 with former heavyweight champion boxer Mike Tyson (on Channel 11). Host Ed Bradley visited the Indiana Youth Center, Tyson's residence since his March conviction of rape.
SUMMER PREMIERES -- CBS plans eight episodes of a new summer series, "Bodies of Evidence," making its debut at 10 tonight on Channel 11. Lee Horsley ("Matt Houston") stars in the one-hour police drama, with George Clooney and Kate McNeil as other members of a squad of homicide detectives in Los Angeles. And on Saturday on ABC (Channel 13) at 9:30 p.m., "On the Air" debuts, a flashback to 1957 during the "Golden Age of Television," when programs aired live. The fictional, fanciful Zoblotnick Broadcasting Corp. provides the setting.
bTC LOCAL ANGLE -- A new PBS special on Friday includes a segment centered upon the Greek Orthodox Church in Baltimore. "Wattenberg: Trends in the Nineties" (at 9 p.m., Maryland Public Television), looks at the soaring rates of immigration and ethnic intermarriage in America, as the host asserts the phenomena are "creating a way of life that is shaping the whole world."
THE MOVIE MARQUEE -- Hume Cronyn and Vincent Gardenia both won Emmys for "Age-Old Friends," originally made for HBO and arriving on CBS Friday night at 9 (Channel 11). The poignant movie chronicles the story of two residents of an old-age home. ** One is mentally sharp but physically frail, while the other's mental faculties are fading.
THE SPORTS SCENE -- The "U.S. Open Golf Tournament," second leg of the Grand Slam of titles, is under way in Pebble Beach, Calif., and ABC (Channel 13) has live coverage at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and 3:30 p.m. Sunday. Payne Stewart defends his title from last year, and Jim McKay, Brent Musburger and Steve Melnyk head the ABC coverage team. Coverage of the first two rounds can also be seen beginning at 2:30 p.m. today and Friday on cable's ESPN, and ABC also offers 11:30 p.m. highlights tonight and Friday. And in pre-Olympics action, NBC has more of its "Olympics Showcase" coverage of the selection trials for the Olympic Summer Games. The U.S. Track and Field Trials from New Orleans and the U.S. Diving Trials from Indianapolis air live at 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday (Channel 2).
WHO DONE IT? -- Maryland Public Television launches "Murder Most English" on Sunday (9 p.m.), highlighting the deductive work of mystery author Dorothy L. Sayers. The four-parter features memorable, aristocratic detective Lord Peter Wimsey, who attends a wedding and finds a murder.