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GUEST BLOG #71: Tom Brinkmoeller On HIS Buried TV Treasures
January 18, 2010  | By Tom Brinkmoeller

[Bianculli here: First, Diane Werts' FOR BETTER OR WERTS blog today covers a gaggle of new, and good, DVD releases. Also, one of our TV WORTH WATCHING contributors, Diane Holloway, just listed some of the shows on TV that made her happy. Now it's another contributor's turn -- and Tom Brinkmoeller intentionally surfs the fringes of the air waves...]


Forget the Whiskers on Kittens:
These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Some baseball players earn a roster spot by mastering a specialty (a pinch-hitter, a closer, a base-runner), while most earn their pay by trying to do everything well. On the TVWW team, I have made it my specialty to discover really good, off-the-beaten-track shows that tend to get lost in the wake of an industry fixated on weight-losers, amateur singers and I-think-I-can dancers.

This role became more clear to me when the cable company recently switched out our DVR and I had to reprogram the series I don't want to miss. For every 30 Rock or Big Bang Theory, there are, on our list, multiple little series many haven't heard of. Most air on public-television stations. And all are fantastic, in my opinion.

What follows, in capsule form. is a list of these series and a description of what they do so well. (Some may be out of production, but still are being played all over the country. Few of them, it's safe to say, are available in all markets. The "check local listings" proviso applies, as always.) Click on the titles for more info.



From the Top: Live from Carnegie Hall -- A TV spinoff of the popular NPR series, the program brings young musicians to New York to perform before a live audience. The talent scale each week transcends impressive and is an antidote to the prevalent obsession for pop stardom. Host/concert pianist Christopher O'Riley makes sure the series and its participants don't take it all too seriously: no judges; no texted votes; no ultimate winner. Just a celebration of serious talent grown to greatness through a lot of hard work.

Design Squad -- A second series that celebrates talented youth whose intelligence and resourcefulness are more important than their ability to sing. Each week two teams of teens are challenged to design and deliver, in two days, a product requested by an outside company or party. They first have to agree on a design, then build it and test it before the run-off competition in which the client picks the winner. Anyone who admires seeing really smart people take on real-world challenges and solve them in innovative ways will find his series as fascinating and upbeat as it is entertaining.

Classical Destinations -- A BBC-produced series that explores classical-musical masters and the cities and countries they lived in and that affected their works. Whether it's Austria and Mozart, Norway and Grieg or any other of the great composers, this half-hour, beautifully shot series is a combination travelogue and music history that makes it extra-enjoyable to learn a bit more about music that lasts. Simon Callow hosts (see photo at top).

Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis -- This is one of the series that no longer is in production, but episodes still are running and age only makes them better. Lewis hosts the series, which features two or three guest jazz musicians each episode. The talk is intelligent and entertaining, and a featured part of each show is a performance by each guest, and usually a combined performance to end the half-hour. What a great opportunity to learn about jazz from its top players.

Landscapes through Time with David Dunlop -- Dunlop, who calls himself a landscape painter, is a talented artist who knows a lot about art history as well as the scientific reasons for what makes good art work. In each half-hour program, Dunlop travels to a locations where a great artist worked and explains the artist's work as he paints an interpretation of a scene the artist once painted. A totally unique concept that's carried off especially well.



Mexico One Plate at a Time -- Chicago chef and restaurant owner Rick Bayless isn't just one of the country's most recognized experts on Mexican cooking -- he's an unassuming and fun-to-watch cooking expert whose ego is the total opposite of the current batch of celebrity TV chefs. That, in itself, makes the show wonderful. The fact that his approachable recipes are backed up by trips to food sources in Mexico makes it all the better.

Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie -- Gourmet, the magazine of this show's title, soon will disappear and with it, almost surely, this beautifully photographed and produced series that traveled all over the world to look at food at many angles, from production to the kitchen. But reruns are just as wonderful and relevant as when they were first-run, and video podcasts make the series even more accessible.

Food Trip with Todd English -- Boston-based restaurant owner and chef English doesn't have the comfort level with being on television that many chefs have, but his trips to all parts of the world to look at cuisines and how he can adapt what he learns to his restaurants still is multiple-times better than nearly anything that shows up on the Food Network.

Lidia's Italy -- Lidia Bastianich is cut from the Julia Child stock of chefs: She knows what she's talking about (her chef, restaurant-owner and cookbook-author credentials are impressive) and she cares more about the food than the building of her stardom. Besides, she's an Italian grandmother, which, according to popular culinary legend, is the height of authority when it comes to cooking Italian.



Art Wolfe's Travels to the Edge -- Wolfe, a well-known and respected still photographer of nature and wildlife, goes to places pretty far off the tourist track in each episode to record the scenery and animals in these far-way places. He's accompanied by a video crew, and Wolfe's photos are integrated into the usually stunning moving record of the trip. Anyone interested in photography will find Wolfe's explanations of his shots and how and why he composes them are the equivalent of a free expert seminar.

Fantastic Festivals of the World -- This series of hour-long programs that wonderfully showcases folk festivals from around the globe was shot for Discovery HD Theater when it was spending money on other programming than testosterone-oriented car shows. It's often buried on the cable channel's schedule, and probably will disappear for good in the near future. Catch it while you can. Its quality level is just as high as its definition level.



Tom Brinkmoeller has labeled himself "The Brink of Obscurity" because of his penchant for searching out and sharing the flecks of programming gold usually buried deeply under the TV industry's huge mounds of dross.



Mac said:

FYI-"Legends of Jazz" was made available as two separate DVD/CD sets (there are some similar tracks on each set) and have shown up at Tuesday Morning, a closeout chain,for five bucks each set. These highly polished videos contain real jazz (take this from a fan for over 40 years), with a cross section of new and old players. Key to the classy look and sound is producer Larry Rosen, the R in the GRP jazz label that flourished in the 1990s, famous for using digital sound for all of their recordings.

Comment posted on January 19, 2010 8:23 AM

Shauna said:

Do you know when the Fantastic Festivals of the World show is on and on what channel? I couldn't find that info from the link, just individual episodes on the computer.

[I have no idea. Tom, do you? -- David B.]

Comment posted on January 19, 2010 9:51 AM

It's so difficult to find this series, though it still gets a bit of stale air, every now and then, from HD Theater. The cable company here has a searchable program grid, and if you have that, I'd suggest trying that. Another way is to search it on Zap2it's grid. I'm guessing the network is burning off episodes until it loses the rights.

Comment posted on January 19, 2010 1:29 PM

Sally W. said:

I've also enjoyed how "From the Top: Live from Carnegie Hall" showcased such talented kids and how the host helped them be at ease.

Speaking of the food shows, I agree that Rick Bayless has been a great watch. I've also enjoyed watching Ming Tsai of "Simply Ming," in addition to Lidia Bastianich. Mike Colameco's "Colameco's Food Show" airs after Lidia's show on WNET in NYC on Sunday, and it's terrific for showing the operations of the great NYC restaurants (especially fascinating for a foodie-wanna-be like me, especially when I'm not planning on eating at the very expensive Per Se anytime soon!) and how we viewers at home could aim to cook the great food at home. (I think an argument can easily be made that Colameco's show is a pretty obscure and fun watch).

The local PBS channels in the NYC area have lately been re-airing the Michael Wood's "Story of India." I've really enjoyed watching it over and over, because not only does it bring to light the history of a place that we should be aware of (and too often, we're not more conscious of the story of India in the mainstream), the cinematography of this series is just fantastic, especially on a big screen HDTV!

Comment posted on January 19, 2010 10:24 PM
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