PBS offers a new perspective on Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds

bY Dean Robbins

As an Orson Welles fanatic, I thought I knew everything about his infamous radio adaptation of War of the Worlds from 1938. The 23-year-old genius crafted the program as if Martians had actually invaded the U.S., with news bulletins seeming to interrupt regularly scheduled programming. Listeners believed the invasion was real, and a national panic ensued. In the aftermath, Welles faced lawsuits, a government investigation and Congressional censure.

That’s the part I knew. But the American Experience documentary War of the Worlds (8 p.m. Tuesday, PBS) does a beautiful job of filling in the historical context. In 1938, prominent scientists still believed in life on Mars. Plus, people had gotten used to hearing the most incredible news bulletins on their radios. Was a Martian invasion more farfetched than the Hindenburg disaster? The Lindbergh baby kidnapping? Adolf Hitler?

In the documentary’s nicest touch, actors in period dress deliver comments from people who were actually fooled by War of the Worlds. Some of them insist that Welles be punished to the full extent of the law, but others congratulate him for pulling off such a brilliant stunt.

Styled to Rock 7 P.m. friDaY (bravO) Fashion-design
competitions are now a dime a dozen, but Rihanna’s new series has an
intriguing concept. It combines music and couture, requiring its
contestants to make designs for pop icons. Styled to Rock is not
interested in subtlety but in wild, sexy looks. And speaking of wild and
sexy, Rihanna herself appears on set to offer words of wisdom.

Dracula 9 P.m. friDaY (Nbc) NBC
puts Bram Stoker’s characters through their paces one more time,
assuming we’ll thrill to the names Van Helsing, Renfield and Harker. Oh,
yes, and…DRAC-u-la! Victims rasp out the word after the suave vampire
sinks his fangs into their necks. I know I should be scared, but why am I
snickering instead?

it’s because this new drama takes its awful script so seriously. Given
the sophisticated modern vampire tales we’re used to on cable TV (Being Human, True Blood), NBC
was crazy to think we’d go for this old-fashioned hokum. Dracula
(Jonathan Rhys Meyers) struts through the foggy sets, proclaiming his
enemies “preening little peacocks.” The pilot features seduction that’s
not seductive, horror that’s not horrible.

The Governor’s Wife 9 P.m. SuNDaY (a&e) The
latest reality- TV gargoyles are former Louisiana governor Edwin
Edwards, 85, and his Barbie-doll wife, Trina, 34. Edwards is a corpulent
egomaniac who spends the pilot leering at his young bride. He’s fresh
off a 10-year prison term for racketeering, so A&E’s attempt to pawn
him off as a lovable teddy bear is an insult to the long-suffering
citizens of Louisiana.

unfathomable reasons, Trina is happy to indulge Edwin’s sexist
fantasies, to endure his scornful 60-year-old daughters and to have his

The Pete Holmes Show 11 P.m. mONDaY (tbS) Launching
a decent late-night talk show is one of the toughest undertakings in
show business (see Chase, Chevy; Rivers, Joan; Lopez, George, etc.).
Pete Holmes has had only minor success as a standup comedian and TV
writer, so he brings no star power to The Pete Holmes Show. But
he has something even better: a talent for this line of work. To judge
from samples released by TBS, the tall, rubber-faced comedian will take
an absurdist approach to his skits and interviews, finding the perfect
level of silliness. Like his leadin, Conan O’Brien, he manages to be
nerdy and cool at the same time.

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