CBS (Sun., April 23, 9 P.M. ET)
Two things make this TV movie notable: It is a show about children with AIDS. It also is a show made with new, high-definition TV technology. Before we talk style, let’s talk substance. In this true story, Tim Matheson plays Dr. Jim Oleske, a New Jersey doctor who knew that children were dying of AIDS even when it was still thought to be a “gay disease.” The Littlest Victims is just what you expect it to be: a touching story about one man’s dedication and intelligence, a mystery story about a doctor’s search for a killer, a tragic story about dying children. Only occasionally does it stoop to oversimplification—when, for instance, the doctor declares: “I have to believe that the good guys will win.” It is another AIDS movie, another worthy effort.
Now the technical notes: High-definition TV (HDTV) gives you much more detail, clarity and brilliance than plain old American TV does. If you could see this movie on HDTV—especially the aerial shots at the start—then you would be wowed. But you won’t be able to buy an HDTV set until around 1993 (when it is likely to cost a few thou). So you’ll have to watch it on your old-fangled set, where it will look good—maybe a little better than other shows made with video cameras (or maybe that’s just my imagination) but not quite as good as the many shows and movies still shot on film. This looks like a videoed show; it’s a little flat, like an afternoon soap opera…which is an unfortunate association for a serious production such as this. So why make a show in HDTV? In the long run, it will look better than regular video but it will be cheaper and faster to shoot than film—because you get to see scenes as you make them without waiting to process the day’s work. That may be a wonderful advance—but it brings with it one troubling implication. TV is already too quick to jump onto a news event with a quickie made-for-TV docudrama (on the Baby M case last year or the Oliver North story next week), and more networks than ever are making movies (TNT this week, USA next week). Now TV can do this even more quickly. And that worries me. Perspective comes with time. TV should think first and shoot video later; this new technology makes it more tempting to do just the opposite.