"Seekers of the Lost Treasure" (Discovery Channel, tomorrow and Monday at 9 p.m.) is a four-part series about 19th- and 20th-century adventurers who plucked notable collections of art and artifacts from other lands to enrich the museums of Britain and the United States.
The programs all rely on re-creations, which, along with the Hollywood spin-off of a title, lend them a fictional quality. But how else is a producer to make up for the lack of a movie camera at the scene?
"The Michael Rockefeller Story," the first part of Sunday's opening two hours, tells of that young man's art-collecting journey to Dutch New Guinea, which ended with his much publicized disappearance in 1961. Speaking of publicity, at moments Jeremy Irons' upscale narration sounds like a Rockefeller production: "Rockefeller fantasies did not remain fantasies for long."
But after a dutiful account of young Michael's privileged growing up and his craving for adventure, the program gains excitement as it focuses on his determination to go to ever more remote areas in search of the wood carvings of Asmat tribesmen, who were reputed to be headhunters as well as artists.
The re-creations, mostly of exotically adorned men and women prancing about, seem far less authentic than the simple black and white photographs, some taken by Rockefeller himself.
His letters, read a touch too breathlessly by an anonymous voice, convey his fascination with the Asmat and his daring in venturing where few whites had gone. His companions on his final journey, a Dutch explorer and a guide, recount vividly what were probably his last hours.
His body was never found, but his legacy can be seen in the wing named for him at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan.
The shows that follow tell of Edward Thompson, who took Mayan artifacts to the Peabody Museum in Boston; Lord Elgin, who took the famous Elgin Marbles to the British Museum, and Giovanni Belzoni, who took that estimable establishment artifacts from the tombs of the Pharaohs.