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On the Tube: In 'Kecksburg' the truth is way out there

Friday, October 24, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette Tv Editor

Kecksburg, Westmoreland County, is the new Roswell. It even says so in the title of Sci Fi Channel's new two-hour documentary: "The New Roswell: Kecksburg Exposed" (9 tonight), which explores whether a UFO crash landed there Dec. 9, 1965.

It's not a new story -- this program even acknowledges an "Unsolved Mysteries" episode about the alleged UFO crash was taped there in the early '90s -- but Sci Fi tries to eke out new details by sending in a team of archeologists and forestry experts to search for clues almost 40 years after the fact.

At two hours, "Kecksburg Exposed" is a hugely bloated endeavor that easily could be tightened to one hour. It sets up a town rivalry between believers and nonbelievers, even though few can agree on specifics.

Some townsfolk say there were no military personnel on the scene, some agree with a government report that it was just three soldiers, and still another eyewitness claims to have seen upwards of 100.

"Kecksburg Exposed" includes audio from reports that aired that night on a Greensburg radio station in addition to audio from a KDKA (1020 AM) broadcast.

Former WTAE anchor Adam Lynch is referenced by one of the believers, saying he saw a light, proof of a UFO down in the woods. This week Lynch, who was amused to hear he's mentioned in the program, said the light he saw came from a nearby town, not a UFO. He believes it was a Russian satellite that crashed in Kecksburg, another theory put forward in "Exposed."

The biggest mystery of "Kecksburg Exposed" is why Bryant Gumbel, the show's host, would get involved in this sort of hokum. Is he really that pressed for cash after leaving CBS's "The Early Show?"

'CAMBRIDGE SPIES'

It's not the spy world of "Alias" or "24," but a more realistic, engrossing look at a true-life, five-episode spy story set during World War II.

"Cambridge Spies" (10 p.m. Saturdays beginning tomorrow on digital cable's BBC America) begins at Cambridge University in 1934 where four idealistic students are recruited by Soviet agents. At a time when Hitler was often viewed as a friend of England, these men believed him to be a fascist and are driven to the other end of the spectrum, taking up the communist cause.

Kim Philby (Toby Stephens) is the most eager to get involved, but ringleader Anthony Blunt (Samuel West) and his oddball lieutenant, Guy Burgess (Tom Hollander), are more interested in Philby's politically connected friend, Donald Maclean (Rupert Penry-Jones).

Though the miniseries begins in a bit of a confusing muddle -- getting a grasp on the characters and the political context of the era takes some time -- by the second 48-minute installment next week, the pieces fall into place.

These spies are rather ingenious in their approach, infiltrating the British establishment -- Buckingham Palace, the BBC, Foreign Office, MI6 -- so they can best "do terrible, wonderful damage," as one declares.

Their lives and exploits -- including sex, heterosexual and homosexual -- are easy for viewers to get wrapped up in. And though you may disagree with their cause, their passionate beliefs are palpable.

MTV'S SUNDAY NIGHT SHOWS

There used to be a time when MTV aired music videos. Then it was home of "The Real World." In recent years, it amused some viewers with "The Osbournes" and "Newlyweds."

For others, MTV was all about the gross-out humor of Tom Green and "Jackass." MTV's new Sunday night is for them.

Though I'll admit a certain pleasure can be found in watching the celebrities on the "Candid Camera"-esque show "Punk'd" (9 p.m.), I have no use for the vile antics displayed in the new series "Viva La Bam" (9:30 p.m.) and "WildBoyz" (10 p.m.), which both feature "do not try this at home" disclaimers.

Bam focuses on skateboarder Bam Margera, who rips off Tom Green by torturing his wildly permissive parents by destroying their home and their lives. I lasted with this one until Bam's father began to brush his teeth with doctored toothpaste that contained ground beef.

"WildBoyz" features "Jackass" stars Steve-O and Chris Pontius acting as you'd expect -- like jackasses. I attempted to watch this one in a glass-walled conference room at the office and had to turn it off after five minutes because the guys trained their cameras on a masturbating baboon.

That should give you a good enough idea whether these are the kind of TV programs you want on in your home, but out of professional obligation I watched all of both shows.

"Viva La Bam" had some fun skateboarding scenes, but Bam disrespects his parents to a degree that makes the show unwatchable, at least for me.

The "Wildboyz" go on non-National Geographic-approved expeditions, taunting sharks with a fake seal, teasing cheetahs with a ham, etc.


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

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