TV Reviews : PBS Banks on Double Blast of Nostalgia

In its regular ritual of luring senior donors known as Pledge Drive, KCET-TV Channel 28 has two Sunday offerings that make the "good old days" feel so good that Gen-X viewers who haven't a clue will think this really is the Age of Devolution.

The first is purebred L.A. nostalgia, down to the guide. Longtime Angeleno voice Ralph Story hosts the "Life & Times" special "Things That Aren't Here Anymore," and it begs the bittersweet question why Story isn't on TV anymore.

Retaining every bit of his trademark patter with equal parts wry and corny, Story describes--with considerable help from some folks who were there--the nutty and fabulous L.A. landmarks and cultural signposts that somebody deemed worthy of demolition.

Narrated and remembered with a fond shrug, Story's litany of places could also be a chant for everything that's now wrong with the city. Funky Angel's Flight incline trolley. Glitzy Cocoanut Grove. Charming Beverly Park (now the site of the monstrous Beverly Center). Homey Gilmore Stadium. Hollywoody Schwab's Drugstore. And this writer's favorite, the unmatchable Pacific Ocean Park, which a rich display of clips here shows as a crazy mix of space-age and Jules Verne.

We can now see that they're gone (well, Angel's Flight station is being restored, and the Art Deco Bullock's Wilshire building still stands), and it's a tragedy of history that they are. This memory-lane trip gives a rough idea of where the landmarks once stood, which only serves to remind that the business of L.A. is real estate.

Following this L.A. romp is a more national one: "Remember When," produced with an East Coast slant by WHYY, Philadelphia's PBS outlet. Carefully tracking relics of another era that are still doggedly preserved, producer Ed Cunningham has selected good stuff that will appeal to everyone from septuagenarians to youngish boomers.

Whether it is the elegant, noisy steam train (still chugging most dramatically in Durango, Colo.), Burma Shave road signs (billboards as homespun poetry) or archive footage of Rosie the Riveter, Depression-era children will feel their nostalgia glands working up a storm over these images.

Postwar kids might feel like time is passing by with other images: the stunning tail-fin cars of the '50s, fun footage of drive-ins (the best of which are still in Southern California) and a sweet, sad valedictory to the "Howdy Doody Show," capped with comments by host "Buffalo Bob" Smith, who still does a live version of the show for kids. * "Things That Aren't Here Anymore" airs at 8 p.m. Sunday, followed by "Remember When" at 9:30 p.m. on KCET-TV Channel 28.

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