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    Image from First Person. in First Person
    Image from "First Person."

    Reality bites

    Filmmaker Errol Morris and TV journalist Jay Schadler bring reality to TV in small but sometimes potent quantities on the strange and wonderful "First Person" and the occasionally enlightening "Tale Lights."


    For those whose morbid curiosity wasn't fully satisfied by Errol Morris' "Mr. Death," the acclaimed documentarian's new program "First Person" on Bravo starts with another strange, fascinating character who's strangely fascinated with death. Temple Grandin is the good person that "Mr. Death's" Fred Leuchter wishes he could be — she's used her gifts to, among other things, help ease beef cattle out of this life with the least possible trauma.

    Directed by: Errol Morris.
    Also "Tale Lights" with Jay Schadler.

    Related links: Official site
    "Counter Culture Wednesdays" Wednesdays, 10 to 11 p.m.

    Grandin (who's written her own memoir "Thinking in Pictures" and was the title figure in Oliver Sachs' "An Anthropologist on Mars") is just the kind of character that Morris loves to bring to his documentaries — human but almost inhumanly obsessed with things that other people don't think about. Grandin was born autistic — she says she thinks in pictures where others think in words, and that lets her understand how language-lacking animals see the world.

    "First Person" is necessarily a quick hit — the half-hour show doesn't delve quite as deeply into its characters as Morris' films do, or aim ultimately to lay bare the person's startling secrets. But the director's trademark style of long closeups, conversational pauses, slow motion and illustrative imagery translates terrifically to TV, and it brings out different sides of interesting people than you'd ever see on "60 Minutes." Probably you've never looked at a cow with quite this much insight into its state of mind.

    Image from Tale Lights. in First Person  
    Image from "Tale Lights."
    Somewhat less engaging is the counterpart program on what Bravo is calling "Counter Culture Wednesdays": a cross-country hitchhiking diary called "Tale Lights." Former "20/20" correspondent Jay Schadler's idea is to travel all over America by asking regular folks for a ride and a story. The reality-based show really reflects the reality of on-the-street reporting in that some people have a story and others obviously don't — or if they do, Schadler doesn't necessarily have the days or weeks it would take to flesh it out.

    Still, the show does dig up some good home-grown American eccentrics at times, like the middle-aged couple who live in a bus in the middle of the 120-degree desert and believe that other people are jealous of them; and it occasionally documents the unsung trials of ordinary life, like the family coping with an elderly woman's Alzheimer's disease. But it's only when Schadler gets out of somebody's car and spends some time in a place that he begins to find these more telling stories.

    MARCH 1, 2000

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