Series on death dwells on film violence


Thanks to a new PBS series premiering in prime-time, tonight's TV lineup is "Death" itself. It could be worse, though: When it comes time, months or years from now, for "Death: The Trip of a Lifetime" to be repeated, that particular night of television will be like "Death" warmed over.

* "In the Shadows, Someone's Watching" (9-11 p.m., WMAR, Channel 2) -- But in your living rooms, don't bother. There's a violence disclaimer at the beginning of this new NBC telemovie, which stars Joan Van Ark and Daniel J. Travanti. But since this movie is all about preteens being terrorized in a small town, there ought to be a tasteless disclaimer as well. NBC.

* "Death: The Trip of a Lifetime" (9-11 p.m., WMPT, channels 22 and 67) -- "Death, not space, is the final frontier," says Greg Palmer, the Wallace Shawn-ish host of this four-hour PBS series about death. Mr. Palmer, a surprisingly giddy guide for such a dark documentary journey, says things like, "These days, Halloween has as much to do with death as the Orange Bowl Parade has to do with citrus fruit." And, ironically, these opening chapters spend enough time looking at death in the cinema that the national Coalition for Television Violence, or other violence-toting researchers, would count this sober series among the most violent TV programs of the year. PBS.

* "Northern Exposure" (10-11 p.m., WBAL, Channel 11) -- Maurice (Barry Corbin) doesn't see himself as a dummy -- or at least doesn't "like" seeing himself that way, once he gets a look at the full-scale replica of him prepared for exhibition by the sculptors at a faraway Wax Museum. CBS.

* "The Chevy Chase Show" (11-midnight, WBFF, Channel 45) -- Here's a "Chevy Chase Show" to watch, unlikely as that sounds. One of Mr. Chase's guests is Dan Aykroyd, who was there with Mr. Chase for the 1975 premiere of "Saturday Night Live" -- and who, unlike Mr. Chase, stayed around for the completion of his five-year contract. All these years later, what do these two have in common? (Besides, that is, checkered film careers?) Find out tonight, merely by tuning in. I wonder: Will they make room for Mr. Aykroyd to co-anchor Mr. Chase's "News Update," as Mr. Aykroyd did with Jane Curtin following Mr. Chase's premature departure from "Saturday Night Live," or would that be too troublesome or clever for the Chase folks? Fox.


* "Whoopee" (9-10:40 p.m., AMC) -- Eddie Cantor stars in this 1930 musical, which was co-produced by Samuel Goldwyn and Florenz Ziegfeld. It would be entirely accurate, therefore, to say that 63 years ago, Goldwyn and Ziegfeld were makin' "Whoopee."

David Bianculli is the author of "Teleliteracy: Taking Television Seriously."

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