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Public TV casts musical lures to hook boomer buckss

OK, boomers: How do you know you've become your parents? When you look at the lengthy lineup of music specials that PBS (and, locally, WHYY-TV12) is tossing out as lures for its March Madness fundraising campaign, and most of 'em make you smile and say, "Wow, they're finally on my wavelength."

OK, boomers: How do you know you've become your parents?

When you look at the lengthy lineup of music specials that PBS (and, locally, WHYY-TV12) is tossing out as lures for its March Madness fundraising campaign, and most of 'em make you smile and say, "Wow, they're finally on my wavelength."

As a rule, PBS skews older in demographic appeal than the average TV network, getting the bulk of its fundraising bucks from folks in the 50-plus and even 60-plus demographics. That's why you used to see so many fund-drive specials built around doo-wop acts of the '50s and '60s, or those bubbly Champagne Music Makers of "The Lawrence Welk Show." (Both are still being milked for this March music marathon by 'HYY, Philly's primary public station.)

But today's public-TV contributors prefer a good-old-days soundtrack of classic rock and pop acts that broke out in the 1970s and '80s. So, to pump up the generosity of boomer-generation "viewers like you," this month's prime-time PBS concert lures lean heavily on album rock and pop staples - including, quite prominently, tonight's back-to-back specials, one pairing Carole King and James Taylor, the other starring Harry Connick Jr.

Also blowing out lotsa candles will be Sunday's two begathons with "David Foster and Friends," including boomer-baby notables Chaka Khan, Donna Summer and Earth, Wind & Fire, and then Philly fave Billy Joel's historic last concert stand at Shea Stadium.

TV's music oasis

PBS earns special props from arena stars because it's pretty much their last mass-reach showcase in America - the only network still willing to air a prime-time concert not in the year-end "holiday special" loop.

Stars also court and cooperate because PBS still sells product - CDs and DVDs - like nothing else on the boob tube except "Glee" and "American Idol."

Hang in to the closing credits for this month's top PBS concert specials and you'll note that most have been produced by the artists' companies and record labels. No surprise, then, that extended CD and DVD packages of the King/Taylor documentary and Connick, Foster & Friends and Billy Joel specials are hitting stores this week or next, and that they'll be the primary premium offered during the fundraising breaks.

Because WHYY's membership drive doesn't begin until Saturday, this evening's nationally televised "American Masters" and "Great Performances" specials will be carried blessedly free of interruptions.

For fans of the folkie singer/songwriter scene, the music-rich documentary "Troubadours: Carole King/James Taylor & The Rise of the Singer/Songwriter" at 8 p.m. covers the bases quite well. It spins off last year's highly successful King/Taylor reunion concert discs and tour that marked the 50th anniversary of the West Hollywood-based Troubadour showcase club, and boasts especially juicy "back in the day" footage of Carole and James.

But the documentary also focuses on others who made an early mark at the club, like Jackson Browne, David Crosby, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt (um, she's had work), and comic stars Cheech & Chong and Steve Martin.

And the tough-nosed doc finds a little time to critique the exploding scene, including the wretched excesses of Troubadour owner Doug Weston and music-industry execs who cast themselves as "star makers." (Don't blink and you'll see an unidentified shot of Cherry Hill's Kal Rudman as David Crosby puts down the power brokers.)

"Harry Connick Jr. in Concert on Broadway," at 9:30 tonight, is, um, a little slow-starting. But hang in there. The second half celebrates his Louisiana roots and skills as a stride-jazz-schooled piano man, singer and high-steppin' dancer, with explosive "second line" street-beat numbers that also spotlight talents like the scorching trombonist Lucien Barbarin. Next best thing to a trip to Mardi Gras. (Repeats at 9 p.m. March 10.)

Saturday specials

When I was a child, my baby sitter monopolized the TV set whenever her darling Lawrence Welk was on - grrr. So I learned to hate everything that the polka-lovin' band leader (and accordionist Myron Floren, and the "lovely Lennon Sisters") stood for.

The "new" cut-'n'-paste job "Lawrence Welk's Big Band Splash" (airing at 6 p.m. Saturday) has me mildly interested, though, as it features "rarely seen" performances of the Welk band from the '70s and early '80s playing the music of Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman and even, gasp, "soul brothers" Duke Ellington and Count Basie.

As I live and wheeze.

The "best songs of the late '50s and early '60s" are promised on "Rock, Pop and Doo Wop," airing at 8 p.m. Saturday. Jon "Bowzer" Bauman (of Sha Na Na) and Ronnie Spector host and perform on this latest trip down memory lane from Pittsburgh-based producer T.J Lubinsky.

Sunday hits

End your weekend with two back-to-back killer concerts.

Mostly a recording producer, songwriter and studio musician, David Foster might not be a known quantity to you unless you saw his first PBS special a couple of years back. Yet "The Hit Man Returns: David Foster and Friends" at 8 p.m. Sunday again underscores how well we know and appreciate his snazzy, jazzy, sophisti-pop music, as he brings on a "who's who" of stars to recap their "Fostered" children.

We're talking Chaka Khan with "Through the Fire" and "I'm Every Woman," Kenny Loggins sharing "Heart to Heart" and Earth, Wind & Fire doing up a medley of "In the Stone," "September" and "After the Love Has Gone."

Master packager Foster also bundles Natalie Cole with Ruben Studdard, and Seal with both Michael Bolton and Donna Summer (for "On the Radio"). And shows he's still plugged in with Ne-Yo, pedal-steel guitar virtuoso Robert Randolph and that amazing 10-year-old operatic singer Jackie Evancho.

"Billy Joel: Live at Shea Stadium," airing at 10 p.m. Sunday, delivers a blistering, 90-minute "all-hits-all-the-time" version of his two July 2008 shows that brought down New York City's Shea Stadium.

Joel's string-section-endowed "Goodnight Saigon" and "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" hold up as not just vital pieces of music but vivid evocations of social and cultural history.

Also underscoring the theme, Paul McCartney pops in to recap a ditty he once played at Shea with those Liverpool lads ("I Saw Her Standing There") and to help close the night with "Let It Be."

Haven't seem 'em, but I'm impressed by the sheer airing of "The Weavers: Wasn't That a Time!" (at 6 p.m. March 13) and "Airplay: The Rise and Fall of Rock and Roll Radio," hitting WHYY at 9:30 p.m. March 14.

The former captures an early '80s reunion concert by the folk pioneers and recalls their blacklisting in the McCarthy era. The radio special celebrates DJs and talents (like Grace Slick, Bob Weir and Ray Manzarek) who "fanned the flames of the '60s."