TV Programs Worth Watching Sun August 11 — Sat August 17
George Bernard Shaw was one of the founders of the Fabian Society, socialists who believed that education and reforms could bring about a revolutionary transformation of society in the interests of working people. In his plays, Shaw pilloried the ruling class, especially their hypocrisy and double standards, the selfishness and snobbery inherent in bourgeois thinking. He particularly railed against the stultifying conformity and elevation of mediocrity in "middle class morality". When Alfred Doolittle, a carefree, amoral dustman in Shaw's play Pygmalion, is left an annuity, he is elevated from the ranks of the working class into the middle class. With his new-found respectability come responsibilities: for instance, his "old woman" insists that they get married at last. "I've been delivered into the hands of middle class morality", he moans to Professor Henry Higgins, the man he holds responsible for placing him under these obligations to ruling class values. In Pygmalion, a delightful play to read (with the added benefit in written form of Shaw's preface and afterword), Shaw put the view that if a guttersnipe were scrubbed up, well dressed and above all taught to speak with a posh accent, he or she would be automatically accepted into so- called "society". Radical ideas for the Edwardian era. He went further, letting his heroine swear on stage and, almost as shocking, turn down the hero Professor Higgins in favour of the lightweight supporting character Freddie Aynsford-Hill. As Shaw puts it, she rejects a lifetime of fetching Professor Higgins' slippers in favour of a lifetime of Freddie fetching hers. Calculating, even cynical, and certainly not very romantic. But it was the logical outcome of Higgins' liberating education of Eliza. The ending is in fact central to Shaw's theme throughout the play. Nevertheless, when they made the film of it in 1938 and later the musical My Fair Lady, box office considerations made them change the ending so that Eliza would choose to go on fetching Higgins' slippers. My Fair Lady is a travesty of Shaw's great play. The treatment of Alfred Doolittle in particular — and the theme of middle class morality in general — shows how little the producers knew or cared about Shaw's ideas or views. Anyway, for those of you who think it's a "loverly" musical, the ABC has a BBC program, My Fair Lady: Wouldn't It Be Loverly?, the story behind the creation of the musical play (ABC 2:50pm Sunday). The Channel 5 documentary Catherine The Great (ABC 9:25pm Sunday) spends a lot of time making it clear that Catherine the Great's popular reputation for having scores or even hundreds of lovers was untrue. So far so good. Instead it talks about her role as a female monarch, her contribution as an educator and reformer, and her insatiable passion for collecting not lovers but books, paintings, objets d'art and even other people's complete collections. Also, so far so good. The oppulence and extravagance of her court is shown (an incredible 12 per cent of the national income went on the court) and the point is made that the peansants ultimately paid for all that Catherine bought or built. But the program never actually goes much deeper than the people who want to concentrate on her lovers. She actually had 12, which as one academic says in the prograsm, is not really many, but her biographies were written in the ultra prudish 19th century. The program, which has some splendid location shooting in St Petersburg, never finds it necessary to put her reign in the context of other economic or social or political developments in Russia at the time. Nor does it give us any indication as to how the other social classes lived at the time. Was the period of her long reign "great" for serfs, artisans, clerks and minor officials? She believed in reading and education generally, but not for serfs, I'll be bound. Once again, history devoid of social forces. The program is also enlivened by clips from several movies about Catherine, which are often farringly inappropriate in a "historical" account. This week's Cutting Edge: Whale Hunters (SBS 8.30pm Tuesday) deals with the propaganda struggle in Japan over whaling. It examines the role of the Japanese Fisheries Agency in trying to promote the eating of whale meat in Japan (providing cut-price "whale burgers" and the like) while trying to convince younger Japanese that Japan is a whaling nation whose traditions are under attack. The Commission's scientists argue that whales eat fish, so more whales mean less fish for people, hence whales should be hunted. Scientists and nature campaigners from other countries and from Japan itself reject their science as well as their logic. The ABC's new drama series MDA (ABC 9.30pm Tuesdays) is not bad, as television drama series go, but that is not really saying that much. Shamelessly combining two of the three main drama series "concepts" — doctors and lawyers (omitting only "cop show") — there is plenty of scope for drama. This week's episode deals with a very real dilemma that has potentially huge implications for doctors and the dreaded culture of suing people whenever anything goes wrong. Kerry Armstrong stands out from the rest of the cast, giving the impression that she could do really well in a more incisive drama. Nevertheless, MDA is watchable and mercifully free of melodrama. Finally, two programs that merit the attention of serious viewers. The first, deals with the state of our current knowledge of evolution: The Science of Walking With Beasts (ABC 10:00pm Thursday). From the BBC Science Unit, this uses the same computer-animated techniques as its companion series Walking With Beasts. The second is a program about Mimar Sinan: The Genius Of Ottoman Architecture, screening on As It Happened (SBS 7.30pm Saturday) showing how he gave shape to many cities and towns throughout Europe and Asia.