Although no family has been the subject of more television productions than the Kennedys, "American Experience" manages to make an oft-told tale fresh and fascinating.
To kick of its fifth season, the outstanding "Experience" pulls off a four-hour look at "The Kennedys" that will tell even Kennedy lovers some things they never knew before. And even those who never liked them will find reason to sympathize with their tragedies.Part 1 (Sunday, 7 p.m., Ch. 7) concentrates on the father, Joseph P. Kennedy. In addition to the familiar story of his rise as a business tycoon and movie-maker, his affair with Gloria Swanson and his ambassadorship to England, there's a good deal of depth to this portrayal - Joe as a father, Joe as a political opportunist, Joe destroying his own presidential ambitions, Joe the grieving father.
This is a part of the story that has rarely if ever been seen before.
Part 1 ends with JFK taking office as President of the United States, and Part 2 (which airs Monday at 7 p.m.) is steeped in tragedy - Joe's stroke, the assassinations of JFK and RFK and Ted's episode at Chappaquidik.
"The Kennedys" also offers an intelligent and balanced look at why Ted never succeeded in carrying the torch of his older brothers.
"The Kennedys" features interviews with more than 80 people, from Tip O'Neill to Pamela Churchill Harriman to Judith Campbell Exner, as well as family members Edward Kennedy, Joseph P. Kennedy II and Robert Kennedy Jr.
In addition to much familiar film footage and still pictures, there are some amazing new prints and clips - including one in which we hear the retarded daughter, Rosemary.
"The Kennedys" is not perfect. Some of its conclusions are unsubstantiated, relying on first-person interviews with people who didn't actually see the events in question but "knew" they were true.
But it's an extremely well-made look at a family whose history has been intertwined with America's throughout the 20th century.
Other highlights and lowlights on television this weekend include:
College football: There are a pair of local games on TV Saturday - UCLA at BYU (noon, Ch. 5) and Weber State at Idaho (2 p.m., Ch. 14).
Here & Now (Sat., 7 p.m., Ch. 2): Malcolm-Jamal Warner returns with a character reminiscent of Theo on "The Cosby Show." But this sitcom is like "Cosby" at its absolute worst - preachy and not funny.
Covington Cross (Sat., 7 p.m., Ch. 4): As this series moves to its regular time slot, eldest son Armus comes home from the Crusades - but he's not what his family expects.
Frannie's Turn (Sat., 7 p.m., Ch. 5): Frannie takes over the family's purse strings.
Out All Night (Sat., 7:30 p.m., Ch. 2): Even the effervescent Patti LaBelle can't save this turkey - she's plays a famous singer and nightclub owner who takes a young man (Morris Chestnut) under her wing. Loud but not funny.
Brooklyn Bridge (Sat., 7:30 p.m., Ch. 5): Phyllis tries to regain control of her family from her mother.
Empty Nest (Sat., 8 p.m., Ch. 2): Dreyfuss is dognapped in the fifth-season opener.
Nurses (Sat., 8:30 p.m., Ch. 2): A pair of new characters joins the cast as the series opens its second season.
The Edge (Sat., 8:30 p.m., Ch. 13): Outrageous, often very funny half-hour sketch comedy debuts.
Miss America Pageant (Sat., 9 p.m., Ch. 2): Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford host the beauty pageant, which is seen on tape-delay.
Life Goes On (Sunday, 6 p.m., Ch. 4): In the season premiere, it's 25 years in the future and Becca returns to the old home, where she recalls the painful reunion she had with Jesse after they spent the summer apart.
Murder, She Wrote (Sun., 7 p.m., Ch. 5): As the ninth season begins, Jessica's at an Italian film festival when the latest murder occurs.
The Ed Sullivan Show (Sunday, 7 p.m., Ch. 30): After the huge success CBS had with a pair of retrospective specials, Sullivan returns in a weekly series of highlights culled from more than 1,000 hours of old shows.
Danger Island (Sun., 8 p.m., Ch. 2): Really bad TV movie about a group of plane-crash survivors stranded on an island where biological-weapon experiments got out of control years earlier.
Somebody's Daughter (Sunday, 8 p.m., Ch. 4): Sleazy TV movie with the under-talented Nicollette Sheridan ("Knots Landing") starring as a stripper/police informant caught up in a murder case.
Terror on Track 9 (Sunday, 8 p.m., Ch. 5): Richard Crenna returns as Det. Frank Janek in this good TV movie. This time, his pursuit of a serial killer is complicated by the arrival of an FBI expert (Swoozie Kurtz) and a TV news reporter (Joan Van Ark).