Despite the title that sounds like a Johnny Carson spoof of public TV, tonight's National Geographic Special, "National Parks: Playground or Paradise," offers a wealth of sights for sore TV eyes and even an issue to gnaw upon.
The program airs at 8 on Channel 26 and the issue involves a long-running but newly reheated argument over the role of America's national parks and the National Park Service. Should the parks be preserved as monuments to nature and our primeval origins or should tourists in Bermuda shorts be allowed to traipse all over them?
National Park Service director Russell Dickenson has been "steering a course between extreme viewpoints," according to the narration -- a sure sign that the Park Service cooperated fully with the Geographic in filming this report.
Actually, the best reportage done on the threat to the parks was producer Craig Leake's essay on NBC's late great "Weekend" show a few years ago. Leake's cameras captured the tourists who escape civilization by bringing 98 percent of it with them, who nestle at the foot of a magnificant mountain and then sit there watching television!
Like all the Geographic specials, though, this one is visually splendiferous. It includes a trip down the Colorado River to the Grand Canyon (in a motorized boat the Park Service wants to outlaw), spectacular hang-gliding off Glacier Point in Yosemite and views of cruising caribou in Alaska, while tourists watch from ecologically sound tour buses (private cars are not allowed within the protected area).
We also see park rangers fishing from a Yosemite hot spring, with garbage that has been carelessly tossed into it by nameless slobs from Slobbovia. Enough junked trash could clog up Old Faithful, they say.
The parks are "nature's extravagant endowments" and "fountains of life," says narrator Leslie Nielsen. Teddy Roosevelt's advice on what to do with the Grand Canyon is also invoked: "Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it." Though not as strikingly done as the season's most outstanding Geographic special, "Etosha: Place of Dry Water," this one - written, produced and directed by Irwin Rosten -- makes for a rewarding and valuable hour.