In "Ten Who Dared," which premieres at 8 o'clock tonight on Channel 5, the Mobil Oil Corp is bringing to commercial broadcasting the kind of quality programming that it has previously supported on public broadcasting.
This series, produced by the BBC in association with Time-Life films and narrated by Anthony Quinn, reenacts 10 of the most challenging explorations of recorded history.
Tonight's episode recreates the voyages of Columbus. It will be followed on consecutive Thursday through March 17 with nine other dramatic reenactments of great feats of exploration.
If tonight's hour - with Mobil commercials at the beginning and the end and none in between - is an example of what is follow, then it is understandable why this series has been recommended by the National Education Association.
Apart from Quinn's narration, and opening and closing remarks, tonight's episode is entirely in Spanish. When Columbus played by Carlos Ballesteros, and members of his crew speak, they do so in Spanish. There are no subtitles. But thanks to the way the narration is used, the viewer will have no trouble following the story.
There is no attempt to sugar coat history. The narration makes it clear that Columbus was near maniacal in his insistence that he had landed on the shores of Cathay. He held to this belief through several subsequent voyages to the New World until his death as a pauper.
The scenes, especially those at the court of Ferdinand and Isabella, are handsomely mounted. There is a subdued tint to the use of color that often makes the viewer feel that what is being seen is not so much film as an old painting.
What is also distinctive about this series is that it will be carried on 36 television stations in the top 40 markets. It is estimated by Mobil that these stations have the capacity to be seen by 62 per cent of the potential national television audience.
Many, like Channel 5, are independents. But 12 are affiliated with NBC, eight with CBS and two with ABC. Mobil says the series also will be seen on seven other network-affiliated stations in various parts of the country.
If the series is successful in attracting a fair-sized audience over the next 10 weeks, it could influence the network ratings battle, specifically the battle for second place between NBC and CBS. Even if it does not, it will demonstrate to Mobil and perhaps to other sponsors, that there are alternatives, in getting quality programming on the air, to total dependence in the programming whims of the three commercial networks.
The remaining nine episodes are:
Jan. 20: Francisco Pizarro's destruction of the Inca empire in Peru; Jan. 27: Captain James Cook's voyage around the world and his charting of vast unexplored areas of the Pacific; Feb. 3: Alexander von Humboldt's scientific exploration of Venezuela; Feb. 10: Jedediah Smith, a trapper who become the first white man to cross America; Feb. 17: The attempt by Burke and Willas to make the first overland crossing of Australia; Feb. 24: Henry Morton Stanley's epic journey on the Congo to prove that it was not the River Nile; March 3: The attempt by Charles Doughty, an Englishman disguised as an Arab, to reach the holy city of Mecca: March 10: Mary Kingsley, a Victorian English woman who journeyed down the Ogowe and Rembwe rivers in Africa, often living with tribes of cannibals, and March 17, Roald Amundsen's successful attempt to reach the South Pole in 1911.