- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2000

NEW YORK There's often an air of pomposity whenever actors from film or theater discuss their craft.
That's usually not the case with television, if they are asked at all. As an art form, the box in everyone's home doesn't get the same respect as the big screen or the Broadway boards.
"It's odd," actor Alan Alda says. "As soon as television was possible, everyone was watching it, and people would have to be influenced by it, either positively or negatively."
Mr. Alda narrates an illuminating attempt to tie television's present to its past, "Influences," which premieres on Bravo on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Eight episodes of the half-hour series, the first produced by the Museum of Television & Radio, have been made and more will come if the response is positive.
The avuncular Mr. Alda is an ideal selection because he straddles TV generations. While he tackles new roles such as the Alzheimer's-afflicted doctor on "ER" last season, his work as Hawkeye Pierce on "M*A*S*H" lives on in rerun perpetuity.
Growing up in California, Mr. Alda wanted to be a writer. Watching people like Sid Caesar and Lucille Ball on television helped put him in front of the camera.
"Although they were doing half-hour comedy, they were working in a style where it was a little play," he says. "They were acting, they weren't doing stand-up comedy. It was very instructive to watch it."
"Influences" lacks the heft of Bravo's film forum, "Inside the Actor's Studio," but thankfully also lacks the pervasive self-importance. The breezy conversations with people such as Ted Danson, Ray Romano, Tracey Ullman and John Lithgow are richly illustrated with clips from the museum's archives.
When Mr. Danson reveals that he used Andy Griffith as a role model for how Sam Malone tolerated the idiosyncrasies of everyone at the bar on "Cheers," Mr. Griffith appears on the screen with Don Knotts' Barney Fife.
And it's not quite Shakespeare for Mr. Lithgow, who credits "The Three Stooges" for some of his physical comedy in "3rd Rock From the Sun." He can take Larry, Moe and Curly, he admits, only "in small doses."
Perhaps the best of the series pairs Roseanne with David Chase, creator of "The Sopranos."
"I lived for television growing up," Roseanne explains. "The whole world of it just sucked me into another dimension."
Her father would let Roseanne stay up to watch Johnny Carson's monologue on the "Tonight" show as a reward for doing the dishes. "I looked at Johnny Carson every night and willed myself to be sitting there," she says.
The show runs tape of a demurely dressed Roseanne making her "Tonight" show debut. She made a joke that night about June Cleaver, leading "Influences" to contrast the idyllic 1950s world of "Leave it to Beaver" with the rougher, blue-collar household on Roseanne's own sitcom.
Mr. Chase talks about how he and his father used to sit and watch "The Untouchables" together. He explains his admiration for "Twin Peaks," showing how a surrealistic dream sequence from that series was an antecedent to Tony Soprano's talking fish in this season's finale of "The Sopranos."
"I'm attracted as a viewer to things that just meander," Mr. Chase says.
Mr. Alda believes that if "Influences" is made 20 years from now with contemporary TV stars, "The Sopranos" will be one of the shows they cite. He sees the series as a way of keeping television's creative past alive.
"If the museum can give people who currently do television an opportunity to go back to these high-water marks and draw inspiration from them, they won't disappear," he says. "They won't just have been a moment that people enjoyed that passed."
The actor is a trustee of the Museum of Television & Radio, which has branches in New York and Los Angeles. He and Bob Batscha, the museum's president, also see the series as a way to let people who can't get to the two facilities use its archives.
Slowly, people are coming to realize the importance of television as a creative art form, Mr. Batscha says.
The museum is looking for new material, even as it tends to its collection of material from TV's formative years. Even this summer's guilty-pleasure hit, "Survivor," has a place.
"I can see why people are captivated by it," Mr. Batscha says. "Is it Shakespeare? No, but who would make that comparison? Will it be in the museum? Of course, it will be. People will want to answer the question, why did it connect with people in the summer of 2000?"

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