Marty Stouffer, host and creator of "Wild America," says on the premiere of the show, at 9:30 tonight on Channel 26, that "Somewhere in all of us is a primary need to connect with the nonhuman world." That may be, but there have to be more direct and efficient ways of connecting with the nonhuman world than via this ploddingly primitive program.
Stouffer is an auteur-entrepreneur out of Aspen, Colo., whose skills as a communicator are stringently limited. Next to this guy, Marlin Perkins is a regular Ted Koppel. He has one of those lulling, Sunday-afternoon voices that is an all but Brahmsian invitation to nappy time, and it doesn't help that Paula Smith's simplistically declarative script has him making such assertions as, "We are a nation seeking our roots in wild animals."
What -- wild animals have been nibbling at our roots again? Quick, Henry, the Flit!
The program is, as advertised, "the first television series ever to deal exclusively with American wildlife," and it has some nice pictures, like birds in the snow and a squirrel eating from a peanut butter jar and our old friend the yellow-bellied sapsucker showing how apt his name is. And the point of this first show, "Watching Wildlife," is worth making -- that watchable creatures can be as close as one's own back yard.
But Stouffer's presence, more wooden than woodsy, and his overly instructional approach are intrusive to say the least. His advice includes such cautions as, stay away from the dread bull moose when he is in a fighting mood -- right, got that -- and, "Suck on the back of your hand to arouse an animal's natural curiosity." Not to mention your neighbor's.
"Remember," Stouffer adds near the conclusion, "when you are out in the woods, you're a guest in a wild animal's home." Mister Wizard and Captain Video were more sophisticated about imparting folk wisdom than this; the talk track sounds just like the narration for the slide shows we used to dread sitting through at junior high school assemblies.
The "Marty Stouffer Productions" logo is seen twice on the screen, at the beginning and end of the half hour, and the credits inform us that the program was "produced and directed by Marty Stouffer" with "special thanks to Diane Stouffer." This isn't an excursion into the wild; it's an ego trip, and one not really worth taking.