Originally created 01/30/05

TV Lookout: highlights (and lowlights) for the week

You know the main reason for TV reunion specials. It's to let viewers get a look at the show's stars today and then react one of two ways: Either "Gosh, they look old," or "Gosh, they look REALLY old."

Take a look at "The 'Happy Days' 30th Anniversary Reunion," which ABC is airing 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. EST Thursday. It brings back original cast members Scott Baio, Tom Bosley, Erin Moran, Don Most, Marion Ross, Anson Williams and Henry Winkler. Also Ron Howard, of course, who scarcely more than a year ago, appeared on an "Andy Griffith Show" reunion special. Also: Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams, who have done at least two reunion specials honoring their "Happy Days" spinoff, "Laverne & Shirley."

"Happy Days" began its run on Jan. 15, 1974 (which, by traditional, non-ABC math computes to 31, not 30, years ago). Set in Milwaukee in a problem-free version of the 1950s, this sitcom centered on high schooler Richie Cunningham (Howard, though he left the show in 1980), his family and friends, particularly charismatic dropout Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzarelli (Winkler).

Long before "Happy Days" left ABC's lineup in 1984, viewers could recite the show in their sleep, which was maybe part of its charm. Same with the "Happy Days" reunion special, with its reunion show essentials: cast recollection, clips, blooper reel and overall schmaltz.

Other shows to look out for:

- The date: Aug. 24, A.D. 79. The place: the city of Pompeii, which, in less than 24 hours, was buried, with at least 5,000 citizens, beneath volcanic debris - after prospering in urbane bliss in the shadow of a mountain no one knew was a simmering volcano. At the feet of Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii lay buried for nearly 1,700 years, when, in 1748, archaeologists began unearthing the ancient city from its pumice grave.

Now "Pompeii: The Last Day" brings to life its final horrific hours. Based on scientific evidence, as well as the written firsthand account of Pliny the Younger, this Discovery Channel film interweaves dramatic reconstructions with investigation and special effects to tell the tale.

Starring Tim Pigott-Smith ("Alexander"), Jonathan Firth ("Victoria and Albert") and Jim Carter ("Shakespeare in Love"), it airs Sunday at 9 p.m.- The man with the beard and cigar is recognized worldwide, and has been for nearly a half-century. But Fidel Castro, who rose up to became dictator of Cuba in 1959 and remains so today, also remains an enigma to all but a few. Through the decades, he has confounded American presidents from Eisenhower to Bush, while surviving a CIA-backed invasion, countless assassination plots, an economic embargo - even the collapse of his benefactor, the Soviet Union. How has he done it?

Through interviews with relatives, childhood friends, fellow rebel leaders, Bay of Pigs veterans, human rights activists and journalists, "American Experience: Fidel Castro" paints a revealing portrait of an enduring leader. Produced by veteran filmmaker (and Cuba native) Adriana Bosch, this fine PBS documentary airs 9 p.m. Monday (check local listings).

- Here's a hack job worth taking a look at. This latest in the HBO documentary series "Taxicab Confessions" brings its lipstick cameras and hidden microphones back to New York for nocturnal conversations with cab passengers caught on tape, unawares, in this most intimate of public spaces.

"Taxicab Confessions: New York, New York" is the first time the series has been in the Big Apple for eight years. This edition includes nine rides, with fare game including: a young man and his blonde transsexual girlfriend boasting about their steamy love life; a newly single man who talks about the woman he recently broke up with, who took calls from her mother while they were having sex; a woman who describes witnessing the World Trade Center tragedy and her relationship with a firefighter who survived it. The film premieres 10:15 p.m. Saturday.


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