Fall TV Season Trickles In : 'Prime-Time President': A Worthwhile Look

The timing could not be better for "The Prime-Time President" than now, as TV and the election campaign continue to merge almost into a single process.

"The Prime-Time President," airing at 9 tonight on Channels 28 and 15, is a worthy component of a new Monday-night PBS series on the presidency. Produced by England's Channel Four and topped by a Bill Moyers-moderated discussion among prominent media figures, the program traces the growing link between TV and the presidency.

It begins that story with the landmark 1960 TV debate that apparently earned John F. Kennedy the White House over Richard Nixon and brought TV's impact on the election process into sharp focus. That fascinating event (a majority of radio listeners thought Nixon won) is examined in depth through interviews with key participants.

Fascinated by the 1988 campaign's show-business elements and the fusion of reality and fantasy, producer John Wyver and his crew pop in on the Democratc Convention in Atlanta, where they record Democratic attempts to present the event as a TV show. While in Atlanta, Wyver also follows the cast of "Tanner '88," the HBO series about a fictional candidate that provided an amazingly accurate simulation of presidential politics by interweaving Tanner and real candidates.

Wyver's point--that you can hardly tell the actors . . . from the actors--is well taken.

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