Before theme parks and computer-controlled rides, even before the advent of air conditioning, there were charming amusement parks offering creaky wooden roller coasters, small ferris wheels and mild bumper cars -- all considered thrilling in their day.

Wednesday at 8, PBS stations air Rick Sebak's "Great Old Amusement Parks," a nostalgic look at smaller parks, some of which are still operating.

Sebak, who also made "A Hot Dog Program," "An Ice Cream Show" and "Shore Things" for PBS, has put together a scrapbook show that looks at 15 such parks. Two -- Playland Park in Rye, N.Y., and Kennywood Park near Pittsburgh -- are National Historic Landmarks.

He visits Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and its 1911 Loeff carousel, where brave riders still can grab for the brass ring. At Holiday World in Santa Claus, Ind., areas of the park represent Christmas, Halloween and Fourth of July -- and kids can talk with Santa in the summer.

New York's Coney Island has Denos Wonder Wheel Park and Astroland. Also featured are Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio; Giant Dipper and Belmont Park in San Diego; Lakeside Amusement Park in Lakewood, Colo.; Lake Compounce in Bristol, Conn.; Lake Winnepesaukah at Rossville, Ga.; The Oaks in Portland, Ore.; Whalom Park at Lunenberg, Mass.; Idlewild Park in Ligonier, Pa.; and Lakemont Park in Altoona, Pa.

Sebak's "Kennywood Memories," which won the Golden Quill for Best Documentary of 1988, is a profile of the park he visited growing up in Pittsburgh.

Sebak said he always had believed "there was more to an old amusement park than just thrills. There are ancient rides that rattle and shake. There are flowers and trees and sometimes stunning neon. There's an old-fashioned odor too -- maybe it's oil-soaked lumber. We have tried to capture some of the relaxing, creaking, reassuring funkiness of these traditional parks. Throw in some history, a dozen or so classic coasters, a crowd of fun-loving folks, and you get the picture. There may be no better place to be human than at an amusement park on a holiday."

Of all the old parks he visited, one of his favorites is low-tech Story Book Forest at Idlewild Park.

"How lucky we are that something so innocent and simple is still around," he said.


Sunday at 9 on CBS

Harry Anderson stars in a 1996 movie based on Mary Chase's Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy about gentle, eccentric Elwood P. Dowd and his friend, a 6-foot-8 white rabbit, invisible to everyone but Dowd. Anderson takes the role that James Stewart played in the 1950 film -- in which the rabbit was only six feet tall, by the way. Josephine Hull, who also had appeared in "Harvey" on Broadway, won an Oscar as Elwood's sister, Veta Louise.

In the TV film, Swoosie Kurtz plays Veta Louise, who is concerned with finding the right husband for her teenage daughter and is frustrated by Elwood's ministrations on behalf of Harvey: a place set at the table, an empty chair and conversations with a rabbit they cannot see.

Veta's lawyer advises her to commit Elwood to Chumley's Rest, an asylum run by Dr. Chumley (Leslie Nielsen). Letterman favorite Jonathan Banks makes a cameo appearance as the cab driver who takes Veta and Elwood to Chumley's Rest, but takes only Elwood home.



Wednesday at 9 on CBS

In this dark comedy inspired by areal event, Brooke Shields plays a small-town bank teller and Dylan Walsh is her policeman boyfriend who decide to rob a bank. At first they refer to the idea in jest, but over a period of time they convince themselves that they can pull it off. After all, they reason, it would be a victimless crime. The robbery goes smoothly and, believing that they've gotten away with it, the two plan to marry secretly and get the money out of the country. But they haven't counted on a relentless FBI agent, played by Rip Torn.

VANISHED Thursday at 10 on ABC

Madalyn Murray O'Hair, a contentious athetist who called herself "the most hated woman in America," won her fight to ban prayer from public schools with a Supreme Court decision in 1963. Then in 1995 she disappeared, along with her son and granddaughter. This last installment of "Vanished" airs the same week that PBS's "P.O.V." looks at today's battles over prayer in public schools.


Two actresses begin roles Friday on ABC dramas. At 12:30, Kimberlin Brown debuts as Dr. Locke, a power-seeking psychiatrist, on "Port Charles." Brown had appeared on CBS's "The Bold and the Beautiful" and "The Young and the Restless." At 1, Emmy winner Finola Hughes returns to "All My Children" as Alexandra Devane. She played Anna Devane on "General Hospital" from 1985 to 1992.

CAPTION: "Great Old Amusement Parks" features creaking old wood tracks like this one in Ligonier, Pa.

CAPTION: Brooke Shields plans "The Almost Perfect Bank Robbery" Wednesday at 9 on CBS.

CAPTION: Harry Anderson stars in "Harvey," about a man and his friend, an invisible rabbit.