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TV: Sebak preps us for the 'Holidays'

Friday, November 22, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Rick Sebak's latest entry in WQED's Pittsburgh History Series is a pan-cultural look at "Happy Holidays in Pittsburgh" (8 p.m. Saturday, WQED). Don't take the "holidays" of the title as politically correct coding for a show that's primarily about Christmas. This one is not.



WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday on WQED.


Instead, Sebak trains his camera on celebrations from myriad traditions: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, African-American, Latin American, etc. It's informative and educational, but not as much fun as some other Sebak efforts, particularly his most recent show, "Sandwiches That You Will Like."

Real people saying something unusual or unintentionally funny are the hallmark of a Sebak show. "Happy Holidays" has these, but not in abundance. With so many holidays to squeeze in, a little of the humanity gets squeezed out.

"Happy Holidays" chronicles Light Up Night, an open house for the Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh, light displays, toy trains at the Carnegie Museum of Science, First Night, the Kaufmann's window displays and family celebrations of Hanukkah, Christmas, Ramadan and Kwanzaa.

For the Ramadan segment, Sebak and his crew visit a family and allow the family's young son to play cameraman briefly, which leads to minor squabbling with his even younger brother. It's a cute, relatable moment that shows no matter the tradition, children will be children.

It's about this time when "Happy Holidays" gets looser and more -- for lack of a better term -- Sebakian. The number of man-on-the-street interviews increases as the focus shifts from religious observances to more secular celebrations. The respectful tone of the religious segments gives way to one that's freer and more lighthearted:

An adult son visits Kaufmann's with his mother.

"We're looking for a place to eat now," the son says. "They say Kaufmann's may have a restaurant open, so that's something we did when I was a kid too. That'd be fun."

"He's reminiscing and I'm paying," the mother responds.

A segment on shopping in The Strip includes commentary from two guys who look forward to smelling cheese and bread in the stores.

"If they could make an air-freshener out of it, I'd put it in my car," one man exclaims.

In these moments, "Holidays" is at its happiest.

Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Post comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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