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'GH' teens go to school on AIDS TV preview: 'Special' is calculated, yet shares straightforward information on the disease.

"Positive: A Journey Into AIDS" is an "ABC Afterschool Special" that's truly a mixed blessing.

On the one hand, the hourlong documentary has a great deal of straightforward and useful information for teens on how AIDS is transmitted. On the other hand, however, much of the program seems nothing more than an incredibly calculated on-air promotion for the ABC soap opera, "General Hospital," which it conveniently follows at 4 today on WMAR (Channel 2).

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The two stars in "Positive" are Kimberly McCullough and Michael Sutton, actors who portray Robin and Stone on the soap. Robin has HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and her boyfriend, Stone, died of the disease last week.

We hear McCullough and Sutton talk a lot about their roles, we see several intense scenes from their show and we get to visit the set of "General Hospital." All of which, considering this is an "Afternoon Special," may be more thrilling to its intended audience than one might expect.

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Wendy Riche, the producer of the documentary, also produces "General Hospital," and she's on-camera a lot as well -- telling viewers about the decision to include a story line about two heterosexual characters who contract the disease through unprotected sex.

Viewers will see the two glamorous young actors research their roles: shaking hands with people who have acquired immune deficiency syndrome, meeting two teens who've been HIV-positive their entire lives, sitting in on an AIDS support group, and visiting a hospice that cares for people in the last stages of the disease. McCullough and Sutton also have frank discussions with their real-life Hollywood friends about the disease. The friends seem to be massively ill-informed.

As McCullough acknowledges, "AIDS to me, it wasn't in my everyday life. It wasn't a reality."

The show is aimed at McCullough and Sutton's age group -- specifically, teen-agers. The program uses the gloss of the actors just as the British might use Princess Di visiting a hospice to publicize the fact you can't get AIDS from a hug or a handshake.

Sutton admits he was hesitant about the firsthand research: "It scared me at first -- meeting people with AIDS. They're saying, 'You don't know what I'm going through,' and they're right."

As the two actors take part in AIDS walks, meet the first people they've ever met with AIDS, get tested for the disease and, generally, get in touch with a bit of the reality that is AIDS, the most interesting part of the program emerges.

It's found in their candid observations and feelings about their experiences with people with AIDS -- people who are going blind, checking into hospices and planning their funerals. For McCullough, it's all written on her face -- the shock, disbelief and grief she comes to know as a person instead of an actor.



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