TV Programs worth watching
Sun December 1 — Sat December 7
In Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy (SBS 8.30pm Sundays), the battle is not between socialism and capitalism. That battle is irrelevant, as far as this six-part series is concerned. No, the battle the makers of this program believe to be all important is between two approaches to capitalism: Keynesian economics (some government regulation) and Freidmanite free-marketeers (no government regulation). This is a series that sees Margaret Thatcher's slashing of the workforce in British coalmines from 180,000 to less than 3000 workers as an interesting application of Freidmanism. Its worth can be judged from this description issued by SBS: "The series is built around extraordinary interviews with world leaders and thinkers from twenty different countries — including former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Dick Cheney, former USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev, Mexican President Vicente Fox, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Singapore's Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, former Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin, and President George W Bush's Economic Advisor Lawrence Lindsey." There is inevitably much of interest here, but its warped perspective means it can draw few meaningful conclusions. Keep an eye out for Mr Bean Animated (ABC 8.00pm Tuesdays). Animated in Hungary, with Rowan Atkinson not only doing the voice but modelling the lead character, it works surprisingly well. It is however, inevitably more for children than adults, unlike the original live-action series. To commemorate the Year of The Outback, ABC TV commissioned a group of 14 emerging filmmakers in Western Australia to "visit the outback with fresh eyes and to bring back snapshots of outback life, as a short film". Produced with the assistance of ScreenWest and the WA Film & Television Institute, it's a tried and true formula that should have resulted in some fresh, even vigorous short films showing us a wide variety of views of the WA Outback. The result is Outback Upfront (ABC 6.30pm Wednesdays). Unfortunately, the producers apparently doubted the appeal of the short films on their own, so they sandwiched them into a sort of panel discussion. An anchorwoman from ABC Radio National asks ponderous and or fatuous questions of a panel of experts (aviation pioneer Nancy Bird-Walton has to cope with such searching questions as "What is barnstorming?"). The panel are seated at desks as though for a press conference, which contributes to the overall dreariness. The little films, wearing this format (plus a studio audience) like an albatross, have a hard job making an impact, which is a pity. As if all those programs about Hitler's assorted hangers-on, associates and old girl friends, etc, weren't enough, now we have a program about Elvis Presley's hangers on, The Elvis Mob, on The Big Picture (ABC 8.30pm Wednesday). Elvis was a working class kid from the low income housing projects of Memphis. He surrounded himself with a group of friends of his own age and background that he could relate to. When some shrewd promotion propelled him into international stardom, he took his group of guys with him. Dubbed "The Memphis Mafia", they were a hedonistic group of young batchelors who revelled in the lifestyle of luxury hotels, limousines, nightclubs and ever-present young women only too willing to be laid by one of Elvis' friends, especially if it was at Gracelands itself. While Elvis' scheming manager, Colonel Parker, lost a million dollars a night of Elvis's money at the Las Vegas tables, "the guys" looked after Elvis. If you are an Elvis fan who can't get enough Elvis trivia, then this might just appeal. The catastrophic problem of salinity is the subject of Silent Flood (ABC 8.00pm Thursdays), a series of four half hour programs that everyone should see. If ever you needed proof that traditional European farming methods are not applicable in Australia, here it is. Narrator David Wenham reveals first the consequence of colonial farming techniques: clearing the land for crops and grazing robs it of plants to absorb the rainfall; water is left to soak into the ground, where it eventually rises to the surface, bringing with it the ancient salts of the earth. At the surface the water evaporates leaving salt and causing Dryland Salinity. In the South-East of Australia our most precious water resource, the Murray-Darling River System, is experiencing irrigation salinity. After years of altering the natural flow of the river through siphoning water and feeding saline residue back from waterlogged farm lands, we have created a river that is on its way to being undrinkable. Grim, timely stuff. It is 45 years since Sidney Lumet brought the up-close style of US live television drama to the big screen with the Henry Fonda classic Twelve Angry Men. It is 40 years since Lumet worked in television, having followed Twelve Angry Men with a succession of movies that ranged from The Pawnbroker to Murder On The Orient Express. Lumet's original television work was done when TV was "live": the production went out over the air just as it was done on the little TV theatre stage, fluffed lines, audience noises, the lot. It meant actors and directors had to really know their craft if it was to be seamless and effective. Now he's back in television, with a show of which he is "creator and executive producer". I haven't seen it, but it sounds regrettably ordinary. The show is 100 Centre Street (ABC 9:30pm Fridays), described as "riveting night court series which takes a look at the world of big-city justice". A one-hour drama series, Centre Street "tells the powerful story of prosecutors, judges, criminals and attorneys whose lives are centred around Manhattan's night court and the illegal activity on the city's streets". In other words, it's a clone of Law And Order and shows of that ilk. Mr Lumet's credit as "creator" seems a bit grand for something that is basically made to a formula. However, as I said, I have not seen it yet, so perhaps it has hidden potential. We shall see soon enough. When the Nazis needed to put their despatch of people to concentration camps on to a more efficient basis, whom did they turn to? Their good friend and business associate Thomas Watson, head of IBM. Watson's company had pioneered the wholesale use of Hollerith machines, the first breakthrough in fast information processing. With IBM's help, the Nazis were able to step up the throughput of ultimately millions of people to be used as slave labour and then simply eliminated as unwanted raw material. Watson received a medal from Hitler. Later, after the War started, Watson set up ways of continuing to reap profits from trading with the Nazi regime. He should have been hanged. Instead he is celebrated, in King Of Capitalism: IBM screening on As It Happened (SBS 7.30pm Saturday) for example, as "one of the greatest businessmen of the 20th Century, a classic rags to riches story". He was in fact a corporate megalomaniac: his employees were expected to dedicate themselves to the company. He had the walls adorned with brainwashing slogans everywhere (along with lots of pictures of himself), and had company songs written for the edification of his workers. There was even an IBM symphony! The program is anything but hostile, even though some "critics" have been interviewed, people like Edwin Black, author of the book, IBM and the Holocaust. It has been made with full access to the IBM photo archive, even Watson's home movies. Corporate culture rules, OK?