By Terry Kelleher
November 26, 2001 12:00 PM

History Channel

(Tues.-Fri., Nov. 27-30, 9 p.m. ET)

How to describe a survey that segues from the Good Humor man to Muhammad Ali to the smiley-face buttons of the ’70s? I call it a pop cultural hodgepodge; The History Channel calls it American Classics. Host’Dick Clark says this four-part program is about the “icons” that “symbolize our national identity as Americans.” Plenty of authors and academics show up to discuss which personalities and products qualify as true classics.(If New York University media expert Mark Crispin Miller is too earnest, you might prefer “rock and roll historian” Harry Hepcat.) Yet all this talk is merely an excuse to flip through the American scrap-book and learn, among other things, who created Uncle Sam and what made Betty Grable World War IPs hot pinup.

It’s a treat to meet Gerry Thomas, inventor of the TV dinner. The more familiar the subjects—Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley—the less interesting American Classics becomes. When the program rhapsodizes about the Harley-Davidson motorcycle or the Chevy Corvette, it’s barely distinguishable from advertising.

Bottom Line: Not among the classics