Tell someone about a shattering report on AIDS and you may be met with chilly indifference, or worse. But perhaps even those normally resistant to the subject will sit through "Ward 5-A" when it sneaks up on them as one of the segments on tomorrow night's edition of "60 Minutes."
The CBS News magazine airs at 7 on Channel 9.
Washingtonians Paul and Holly Fine, who do some of the most unflinching and compassionate reportage in television, shot this piece in May at San Francisco General Hospital, where Ward 5-A is considered a model in AIDS care.
The Fines, and correspondent Meredith Vieira, treat the victims with a dignity that society has conspired to deny them, but this is also the story of the nurses who work in this ward, volunteering for the difficult duty of treating patients who are in the messy last stages of their lives.
"It hurts to see someone in pain," says Kathy, one of the nurses, and yes, it does. The Fines do not shirk or sugarcoat, yet they don't dwell on misery, either. A homeless black woman may have been abandoned by others, but she is embraced by those who work in the ward. A transvestite named Angel whose family has disowned him gets a new family for his final weeks of life.
And a man named Tom whose wife left him when she learned he had AIDS, and who says he had "no human contact for a year," talks about what it can mean simply to touch another human hand.
The "bitter new reality of AIDS" reflected here is that the drugs now being given to treat symptoms may indeed postpone death, but they also may make it "more excruciating than ever" when it comes.
People who say that AIDS is a punishment from God, and there are such people, should watch this report and ask themselves what kind of a god would ever mete out such punishment.
As in the past, the Fines achieve remarkable intimacy with their subjects. The camera seems to be invisible, and Vieira shows how she earned and deserved the patients' trust. The Fines capture incomparably delicate human moments without seeming to be intrusive.
Like the "60 Minutes" segment they did last season on Melinda, the young woman from Herndon who has defied doctors' predictions that she would die of the muscular dystrophy that has crippled her, "Ward 5-A" is clear, direct, clean -- no spurious heart-tugging, no melodramatics.
Any embellishment would be gratuitous, and the Fines know that. They also know where great stories are, and they invariably rise to the challenge of telling them.
'World of Discovery' "Wild cougar attacks on humans are extremely rare," says narrator Richard Kiley -- over footage of just such an attack occurring. It's a mild, almost friendly attack, however, and the cougar has good reason to be upset. She has just been moved to a fenced-off area in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho to be studied, photographed and followed.
The result airs tomorrow night at 7 as the first installment of an occasional ABC nature series called "World of Discovery." If "Cougar: Ghost of the Rockies" resembles a really good National Geographic Society special, that's partly because executive producer Dennis Kane was associated with those exemplary programs for 18 years before starting his own Washington-based production company.
As one would thus expect, the footage of the cougar, or mountain lion, is up close and personal. This particular cougar was chosen to be studied because she was pregnant at the time, and the months of filming follow the birth of her three cubs (which occurs off camera) and their infancy.
It's all immaculately beautiful -- the lion, the maternal scenes, the snow-covered Idaho mountains. The film was shot and produced by Jim Dutcher, who is seen on camera observing the cougar and at one point being not-so-gently nuzzled by her. This might be called power nuzzling, part affection and part territorial imperative.
The attack, which occurred earlier, came before the lion was familiar with the strangers on her tail.
In another part of the forest, as the saying goes, people with far less noble aims are also after cougars -- to kill them. A trio of scummy hunters blasts a lion out of a tree after yapping dogs have cornered it and rendered it virtually motionless. Some sport, huh? "Anybody would be proud to get that one," a big fat hunter says over the cougar's carcass.
No, anybody wouldn't.
The sequence on the hunters is presented without harsh commentary, probably because it speaks for itself. Of all the mighty predatory creatures that once roamed the West, Kiley says, only the cougar has survived, and that survival is always in jeopardy.
A group called the Mountain Lion Preservation Foundation has endorsed the broadcast. The program, however, is not propaganda but journalism. And even though the airwaves, and especially the cablewaves, are crowded with animal shows, "Cougar" handily stands out.
One can hope at least that films like this will be preserved in the horrible event that the animals are not.
'The Bride in Black' "The Bride in Black," ABC's Sunday night movie at 9 on Channel 7, is not to be confused with Francois Truffaut's "The Bride Wore Black," a Hitchcock hommage. Actually, it is not to be confused with any movie that either (a) holds a person's interest for more than three minutes or (b) makes a great deal of sense.
Susan Lucci deserves an Emmy for keeping a fairly straight face through this ludicrous excuse for a thriller, absent-mindedly written by Claire Labine and empty-headedly directed by James Goldstone.
Of course any film that boasts "a special appearance by David Soul" is in trouble right off. How special can such an appearance be? Soul plays a supposedly dashing scamp who sweeps the lovely Rose (Lucci) off her feet as she stands behind the counter of her mama's Italian grocery store.
When Soul pours on the charm, he uses an eyedropper.
The plot synopsis says she'll marry the guy and that he'll be shot on the steps of the church after the wedding. But the first commercial break comes and -- hey, he's still alive! What kind of a rip-off is this? Not to worry. The wedding finally arrives and a mysterious car rolls by and bammedy bammedy bing, we've got one dead palooka on our hands.
Although the cops say it was "random violence," the heroine is suspicious. So she goes to Pittsburgh, her ex's home town, and does some amateur sleuthing. As part of this she enrolls in fitness lessons at a men's boxing gym. No one suspects a thing.
Reginald Veljohnson is fine as the boxing coach, but the man he's playing failed to learn a very basic lesson about urban life: Never run toward a speeding car in the middle of the street, especially after you've just smashed its windshield with a garbage can.
There are no Hitchcockian touches here, except for a chase through an empty museum, which is nice for a few moments. And it's refreshing that when one of the bad guys leaps out and grabs Lucci, she doesn't scream or panic; she decks him with a haymaker that sends him tumbling down the steps.
Otherwise, plot and dialogue defy credibility and concern, and the film crawls to its conclusion in a sappy stupor. Lucci would have been well advised to tell the filmmakers what Rose tells a pal: "Oh leave me alone. I've gotta go make the cheese."