ABC (Sun., April 7, 9 P.M. ET)
This eloquent miniseries begins in 1950 with the principal (Ed Hall) of a rural black school in South Carolina requesting a bus to pick up his far-flung students. It culminates in Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court case that declared school segregation unconstitutional—and abolished the doctrine of racial separation in education.
Writer-director-producer George Stevens Jr. has turned these events into a streamlined and precisely scaled historical mini of unusual integrity and impact.
Sidney Poitier, making a rare TV appearance, gives a shrewd, prudent performance as Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP lawyer who argued the case for desegregation before the Supreme Court. Burt Lancaster plays renowned attorney John W. Davis, who opposed Marshall. The conclusion on Monday belongs largely to Richard Kiley as Earl Warren, the former California Governor who was appointed U.S. Chief Justice during the months it took the court to deliberate the matter. A strong supporting cast includes Cleavon Little, Gloria Foster, Lynne Thigpen, Graham Beckel, John McMartin and Mike Nussbaum.
Because the pace is unhurried and Stevens hasn’t resorted to TV’s most abused crutches—sentiment and sensationalism—this isn’t visually exciting television. It is, however, powerful and moving.