WRC-TV takes the prime-time "access" period out of the game-show ghetto tonight and offers a satisfactory primer on Supreme Court operations with "Supreme Court Odyssey," at 7:30 on Channel 4. It isn't everything you ever wanted to know about the Court, but it is probably more than most people do know.
The program locally produced and directed by Jim Silman, is primarily a showcase for the work of NBC News artist Betty Wells, whose paintings have to suffice for this inside look at the Court since TV cameras are still not permitted. Chief Justice Warren Burger, anxious to polish the Court's image in the public eye, cooperated with WRC but not to the extent of allowing cammeras within the marble halls.
Wells and correspondent Jim Hartz supply the commentary for Wells' acrylic paintings of not only the justices in their robes, but also of the electronic lecters used by lawyers pleading cases, the justices' private dining room, and spittoons that still sit on the floor, though they are now used as wastebaskets.
To say Wells is respectful toward the Court and the judges would be manic understatement; indeed, it hardly behooves a journalist to indulge in quite such gushes of hyperawe. Hartz also speaks rhapsodically of "the magnificent splendor of the Court" and "the majesty of the law," and Burger is credited with "humanizing the Court" through what are essentially public relations ploys.
It is not suggested that certain recent Court decisions have induced apoplexy in many with First Amendment concerns. But the script is an easygoing mix of anecdote and out-right fact, and the program is a respectable use of a time period usually given over to the numbingly inconsequential.