LOS ANGELES -- The sets and settings are splendid, and the actors are among the most enjoyable to watch that we have.
And yet "Women & Men: Stories of Seduction" is essentially a radio program, showcasing the words and phrases of some of the most distinctive American authors.
"W&M" consists of three short dramas adapted from the works of Mary McCarthy, Dorothy Parker and Ernest Hemingway, and it is a program to be listened to as intently as watched.
Producer David Brown (with credits ranging from "Jaws" and "The Sting" to "Driving Miss Daisy") has assembled a cast of actors, writers and directors who have 14 Oscar nominations and five Oscars among them.
The trio of tidy dramas airs at 9 tonight on HBO, with encores Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and next Monday and Wednesday.
While the trilogy may vary from their originals here and there, they are "very faithful" to the originals, promised Brown, who recalled being involved in publishing Hemingway's "Across the River and Into the Woods" while he was managing editor of Cosmopolitan magazine. As a film executive, he had a hand in the adaptation of "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" into a feature.
He said six other stories are under consideration for adaption. "We considered stories by Somerset Maugham, and some will be in our next group, Guy de Maupassant, Henry Miller," said Brown, ticking off the possibilities for the next round of "W&L." "We've gone through a lot -- Joyce Carol Oates, any writer who was concerned with relationships between women and men. And that covers most writers."
James Woods and Melanie Griffith appear in "Hills Like White Elephants," adapted from Hemingway's story by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne and directed by Tony Richardson.
Molly Ringwald and Perter Weller star in "Dusk Before Fireworks," from Parker's story, adapted by Valerie Curtin and directed by Ken Russell.
Beau Bridges and Elizabeth McGovern are featured in "The Man in the Brooks Brothers Shirt," adapted from McCarthy's story by Frederic Raphael, who also directed the piece.
The dialog is great dialog, even if it seems meant more to be read than heard -- does anyone talk the way Hemingway wrote? -- and a number of the actors, assembled with Brown for a press conference, expressed their respect for the authors' words.
"I think the dialog does the work for you to a large extent," said McGovern. "I always sort of give myself to the text and it seems to sort of accomplish that leap that you want to take into another world, another period."
"The strength of the text helped me out, too," said Bridges. "But I was born and raised in California, so I had to be careful not to let the cowboy-surfer come through. I tried to stand straight and speak correctly."