Good television can turn up in strange places. Tonight it turns up on the Financial News Network (FNN), a cable channel usually devoted to ticker tape stock quotations and frivolous sports call-in shows.
But there is nothing frivolous about "The Los Altos Story," a half-hour documentary funded by the Rotary Club of Los Altos, Calif. A cozily well-off Silicon Valley community that imagined itself to be safely remote from the tragedy of AIDS, Los Altos found courage and resolve when forced into intimate confrontation.
The videotaped documentary, to be shown at 8 and again at midnight on FNN -- and followed by a half-hour panel discussion -- was written and directed by Robin Young, former NBC News correspondent and, for a few months, the best thing about the ill-fated infotainment debacle "USA Today on TV."
As it happens, this is not the tape Young planned to make when she arrived in Los Altos. She was to spend time with the family of Dushan "Dude" Angius, the local Rotary president and high school principal, as it coped with a housebound son, Steve, who had returned from New York in the advanced stages of AIDS.
On the first day of taping, however, paramedics responded to an emergency call as Steve struggled for breath. A few hours later, he died. The Angius family and their friends were plunged into grief, but also filled with a determination to spread the warning: AIDS isn't something that only affects "other" people.
The tape is inspiring on several levels -- for the unquestioning devotion the Angius family members showed Steve ("the most beautiful person who ever walked the face of the earth," his father says); for the portrayal of a small town where bigotry and ignorance about the disease do not seem rampant; for the way most of the other business people in the Rotary Club react not only to the news of Steve's illness, but to two other unexpected AIDS cases in their midst.
At times, the film's structure seems to complicate details that should be spelled out more clearly. Then too, the tone occasionally seems a little too self-congratulatory toward the Rotarians, although it is acknowledged that there were grumblings from some members who were "dead-set" against Rotary involvement.
And the closing credits are superimposed over scenes of what look more like a wrap party for the production crew than a wake for Steve. This was a mistake.
But the on-camera narration by "Dude" Angius is extremely unaffected and heartfelt, and it helps underscore the hopeful theme of the film: that though AIDS is a cruel plague, whose victims often die alone and abandoned, there are good people out there, in places one might not expect, trying to help.
The tape makes you want to be among them.
Young, from her home in Los Angeles, said yesterday that several broadcast organizations showed interest in her completed tape. Producer Norman Lear wanted to show it on the 10 TV stations he owns, she said. But then, when FNN executives saw it three weeks ago and immediately wanted to schedule it, she agreed, because the businesslike audience of FNN is "precisely the kind of people we most want to reach."
The FNN exposure could lead to additional telecasts elsewhere, Young said. Rotary Clubs around the country also have access to the tape. There are reports that a copy has also been sent to Kennebunkport, Maine, where George Bush, once his golfing and boating duties are fulfilled, may see it.
Young praised the Rotary members and the citizens of Los Altos, but was especially moved by the Angius family. "What a privilege to know these people," she said. Those who see "The Los Altos Story" are bound to share that view.
'Guys Next Door'
Launching an imitation of the rock group New Kids on the Block is like cloning haze. There's so little to the original, how can a copy even register? Leave it to a featherbrained network like NBC to tackle this manifestly inconsiderable undertaking.
"Guys Next Door," premiering at 8:30 tonight on Channel 4 but eventually to air on Saturday mornings, is designed for very undiscriminating teenage girls who might find the Guys a satisfactory substitute for the Kids, though some of those "Guys" look as though their peach-fuzz years are long behind them.
Menudo they ain't.
There is one arguable improvement. In place of the New Kids' eerie Jersey-punk pallor, there's a slightly more multiethnic approach. Once this hesitant nod to American diversity is out of the way, there is nothing here to interest anyone with an age over 14 or an IQ over 80.
"We figured we could easily come up with a show better than any of those melonheads over at NBC," jests funster Damon Sharp in the show's opening scene. "So we figured we'd just take over for a while." This is the piratelike springboard for a series of sketches, bad gags and jump-cutty music videos.
Not so much a springboard as a plank, actually.
The videos are so helterly-skelterly edited that it is impossible to tell if any of the Guys has any dancing ability whatsoever, or whether they are capable of synchronized movement. Editing like this, supposedly hip and flashy, is usually a sign that a conspicuous lack of talent is being disguised.
Such comedy as there is consists of ridiculing fat people, teachers and parents. Sexual stereotypes are endorsed in a sequence called "Parent Olympics." Dads throw dishes; moms wash and dry them. Dads carry babies in the "dirty diaper relay," but it's the moms who must do the actual changing.
The humor borrows from the infantile "You Can't Do That on Television" seen on cable's Nickelodeon channel. And of course Les Guys were assembled in about the same way NBC created the Monkees in 1966; the network rounded up some hard-up actors and gave them a shot at the big time. At least the Monkees were kind of funny. Compared with the Guys, they were the Marx Brothers.
"We're the Guys Next Door, we're the Guys Next Door, whoa-oh!" sing Guys Next Door. Now it's true that undiscriminating teenage girls deserve a good time as much as anyone; it's just a little scary to think there are teenage girls this undiscriminating. Woe-oh.