By Terry Kelleher
October 16, 2000 12:00 PM

PBS (Mon., Oct. 16 and 23, 9 p.m. ET)

Can a family be superrich yet not filthy rich? That’s the fundamental question in this ambitious American Experience documentary. The two-part film chronicles four generations of Rockefellers—from John D. Rockefeller, the ruthless but religious oil monopolist who made himself the country’s first billionaire, to his great-grandchildren, some of whom revolted against the dynasty in the 1970s but eventually accepted the responsibility of maintaining its far-flung philanthropies. Steven Rockefeller, son of former New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, provides the program’s theme statement: “The real problem was the integration of power and goodness.”

The Rockefellers is particularly valuable for its penetrating study of the relationship between the Standard Oil founder and his only son, John D. Rockefeller Jr., who gave away huge sums in an exhausting effort to scrub the stain of rapacity off the family name. When the focus shifts to Junior’s sons, you may wish for greater detail in the account of Nelson’s career. But The Rockefellers packs a wealth of history into 3½ hours.

Bottom Line: Rock-solid