Cable's American Movie Classics, home of some of the best classic movies shown on TV, seems the logical place to salute classic radio, which is the substance of "Remember WENN," a 10-part original drama/comedy series premiering at 6 p.m. Saturday. It was created and written by Rupert Holmes, who wrote the book and music for "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" on Broadway.
Set at a small station in Pittsburgh in 1939, "Remember WENN" recalls the days of 15-minute soap operas, complete with organ music and sound effects, actors able to do dozens of voices, owners and managers barely able to meet their payrolls and, above all else, the sense of optimism and excitement that marked radio in its heyday.
At the center of the story is Betty, an eager newcomer played by Amanda Naughton, who arrives at WENN at just the right moment: When the writer for "Valiant Journey" is incapacitated because of liquor, Betty steps in and saves the day for its stars, Hilary and Jeffrey, who also double as the stars of a morning breakfast show. Hilary (Melinda Mullins) loves to recall her Broadway appearance in "The Rivals." Jeffrey (played by UW drama graduate Hugh O'Gorman) loves to flirt with Betty - and any other pretty girl who is handy.
Holmes' scripts pack a full complement of both comedy and nostalgia and the second episode, at 6:30 p.m., has fun with what might have been the beginnings of talk radio. "Remember WENN" is as much of a giddy trip down memory lane as many of AMC's old movies.
Report from the front
If you prefer to think about the present, HBO has a stark documentary called "Prison Life: Prisoners of the War on Drugs," being repeated at 10 tonight, with additional showings Tuesday and Jan. 21 and 27. Filmed in cinema verite style, with some exceptionally blunt dialogue, at three prisons, including a women's prison in New York State, it presents a variety of inmates, nearly all of whom are incarcerated on drug-related charges and many of whom are still using and dealing drugs.
The most interesting thing about the program is the contrast between the two men's prisons, one in New Jersey, the other in Oklahoma. But the contrast is mainly on the surface - life is as dehumanizing in one as the other and equally depressing is that prison life seems as dehumanizing for the guards as for the prisoners.
The documentary points out while there are more and more arrests in the war against drugs, that doesn't mean the war is being won.
"Legend of the Ruby Silver," the family movie ABC is airing at 9 p.m. Saturday on KOMO-TV, will tell you a lot more than you'll want to know about silver mining. But the reason to watch is the engaging performances by Jonathan Jackson and Bruce Weitz.
John Schneider stars as a con artist who convinces a widow (Rebecca Jenkins) and her son (Jackson) to help him find and reactivate a ghost camp high in the Canadian mountains. Weitz plays a boozing old miner who'll take any job. As the project limps from one setback to the next, Weitz and Jackson bond. Jackson inspires Weitz to become once again the man he was and he, in turn, gives the boy a role model. There aren't too many surprises in "Legend of the Ruby Silver" but watching Weitz and Jackson interact is worth the trip.
Another fine performance is given by Thomas Guiry, star of "The Four Diamonds," a good family movie which premiered some months ago with almost no promotion and which is being shown again at 8 p.m. tomorrow on The Disney Channel. It's based on the true story of a young boy who approached his struggle against cancer in terms of turning his battle into a King Arthur-esque fantasy. The movie moves from real-life scenes to fantasy very smoothly, thanks to Todd Robinson's script and Peter Werner's direction, and the movie is both entertaining and very moving. Christine Lahti, as the boy's doctor (and a wicked sorceress in the fantasy scenes) is also a standout.
ABC has a two-hour version of "The Commish" at 9 tonight on KOMO-TV . . . CBS' "48 Hours" explores drinking and driving at 10 tonight on KSTW-TV.