"Creativity With Bill Moyers" is virtually unassailable; who wants to knock creativity or Bill Moyers? The new 17-part public-TV series on humanity's creative urge, premiering tonight at 9 on Channel 26, is so high-minded it's almost withering to be in the presence of it.
And yet Moyers is a practical sort of visionary; he and producer David Grubin have made this a series that promises to be pretty good television. On the premiere, Moyers ambles with poet Maya Angelou through the small town in southwest Arkansas where she grew up; the idea is to discover the roots of her art, which in this case, as in many cases, was a form of rebellion as well as a release.
Angelou recalls such childhood joys as reading Shakespeare for the first time ("I couldn't believe it -- that a white man could write so musically!") and such early trauma as being taunted and jeered at when she walked through the white part of town. Occasionally these memories may sound a trifle whiney; they're the kind of thoughts that are probably best expressed through Angelou's work, rather than her conversation. And it is not always clear (though Moyers would answer that it needn't be) how all this relates to the subject in the title of the show.
But the best sequence in the hour justifies the whole visit, and that is when Angelou talks to a room full of students, black and white, at a local school and tells them, pointing to her brain, "This machine will do anything for you. Anything."
An upcoming edition of "Creativity" takes a sprightlier perspective: "Inventors" looks at what Moyers calls the "special breed" who dream up gizmos and gadgets and suffer brainstorms that may or may not change the world.
These inventions run from the sublime -- a machine to breathe for infants suffering respiratory arrest syndrome -- to the patented ridiculous, like a spill-proof meatball sandwich or a tray for perspiring toilets. Harold Black, whose 300 patents include the negative feedback principle that made long-distance phone calls possible, recalls of his monumental find, "I discovered it in a flash! I'd been working on it for six weeks, but the idea came to me in a flash!"
About the only complaint that can be made of the series is the way Moyers has been directed to keep moving about during studio portions of the program, as in tonight's introduction to the series. He turns, he sways, he bobs and swivels; what's Bill doing? The Texas two-step? Apparently someone was worried about visual variety, but the series -- which will also spotlight such creative souls as producer Norman Lear and Federal Express magnate Fred Smith -- seems substantial enough in content to avoid quirks of style.
Most of the other production ideas work well, appropriately enough, for a program about ideas and the human beings who have them. "Creativity," the last public-TV project Moyers completed before returning to CBS, seeks not only to explore creativity but to embody it. At this, it succeeds.