Television 'Pioneers' reflect again


Television has been part of so many people's lives for so long, there's always an audience for its past.

If there weren't, Nick at Nite and TV Land likely wouldn't exist, nor would have the 2008 PBS miniseries "Pioneers of Television." Each of its hours focused on a genre such as sitcoms and game shows, and now a new season of "Pioneers" tackles other categories.

Narrated in soothing style by Kelsey Grammer, it opens with "Science Fiction" on Tuesday, Jan. 18 (check local listings), with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy discussing their days on -- what else? -- "Star Trek."

On Jan. 25, "Westerns" recalls, among others, James Arness' long-running "Gunsmoke" and James Garner's "Maverick" and has Johnny Crawford waxing nostalgic about playing Chuck Connors' son on "The Rifleman."

"Crime Dramas" follows on Feb. 1, with much time spent on "Dragnet" as the parent of a genre that lets Mike Connors talk about "Mannix" and Stefanie Powers reflect on "The Girl From U.N.C.L.E." and "Hart to Hart."

Finally, "Local Kids' TV" on Feb. 8 salutes children's shows including "Romper Room" and "Bozo's Circus" -- with "Today" staple Willard Scott having been one portrayer of the clown.

Some "Pioneers" have passed away since their interviews were filmed, such as Peter Graves ("Mission: Impossible") and Robert Culp ("I Spy"); Fess Parker, who was the home screen's Davy Crockett, then Daniel Boone; and Stephen J. Cannell, the prolific writer-producer behind such series as "The Rockford Files."

One misstep "Pioneers of Television" makes is in its stagy re-creations of certain off-camera events, such as producer Gene Roddenberry's arguments with NBC executives over how to do "Star Trek," or Lucille Ball walking into her Desilu studio. So much of the content is authentic, sticking with still photos of the actual individuals would have been more fitting.

That said, "Pioneers of Television" is an informative and affectionate capsule of many moments in showbiz history, reaffirming the value of remembering the past.

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