Reali-TV; Uncharted Dimensions

Decrying the state of commercial television is a "no-brainer" task. Comedies are often not funny, and many dramas are tragic only in that they exist.

But that doesn't provide a full picture of the tube's fare. Occasionally it may be worth letting the remote stray from public television.

Reali-TV

On the heels of the "coverage" of the Persian Gulf war, interest in "realistic" TV series increased, and so Homefront (ABC) and I'll Fly Away (NBC) were added to the schedule. The former presented dramatically post-Great War America, and has been relegated to mid-season replacement this year. That was bad news for the latter.

As I write, this season's final episode of I'll Fly Away has just aired. NBC today announced this impressive hour drama will not be renewed. Even though it is critically acclaimed, it hovers (with many of the Fox TV offerings) near the bottom of the Nielson ratings.

Airing on Friday nights, this drama presents uncommonly realistic representations of the civil rights movement. Joshua Brand and John Falsey, producers of the hit Northern Exposure and the new Going to Extremes, have developed deep and interesting characters who don't share the quirkiness of those of the other shows. The decision not to treat the segregated South of the 1950s as just another exotic setting for a love story was a good one.

The acting in I'll Fly Away is superb, if understated. Sam Waterston plays awakening liberal lawyer Bedford Forrest, whose primary interest is justice under the law. His housekeeper, Lilly, played by Regina Taylor (who just won an NAACP Image Award for this portrayal), humanizes the lawyer's theories of fairness. Injustice becomes personal.

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