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TELEVISION REVIEW

'Coast' is worth the choppy ride

Judy Davis and Richard Dreyfuss as a couple on the verge of divorce? It sounds like a bitter pill to swallow, a two-hour George-and-Martha fest in which Davis delivers her trademark nervous rage and Dreyfuss levels her with sputtering, acid wit. So Showtime's "Coast to Coast" comes as a pleasant surprise in the performance department. The marital discord of Dreyfuss and Davis as Barnaby and Maxine Pierce is actually quite reasoned, as they banter easily about whether or not to split. The movie, which premieres tomorrow night at 8, is a civilized drama, one in which two intelligent, passionless people have lost each other in the shuffle of the years. If the Pierces yelled and screamed more, if they didn't bury their conflicts behind their gorgeous rugs and tapestries, their marriage probably wouldn't be in danger.

Based on the novel by Frederic Raphael, who wrote the screenplay, "Coast to Coast" sends the Pierces on one last cross-country trip, from their Westport, Conn. home to Los Angeles. Their stated goal is the businesslike delivery of their vintage red Thunderbird to their son, who's about to get married. But their unconscious motive is to sift through their own marriage and resolve it, one way or the other. Along the way, as they stay with old friends and family, they journey further into their past, not unlike Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney did in Raphael's similar "Two for the Road." Foremost on the Pierces' emotional intinerary: a few extramarital affairs and the death of a son eight years earlier.

The stops in the movie are richly imagined, with vivid scenarios and memorable characters whose life choices provoke the Pierces. There's Maxine's sister and her husband, whose idyllic farm life turns out to be a kind of hell thanks to a son crippled with hostility. There's Maxine's beloved college professor (played strongly by Maximilian Schell), who has made some questionable relationship changes. And there's Barnaby's old friend, played by director Paul Mazursky, whose bold grab for youth is ultimately pointless.

The problem with "Coast to Coast" is its obligation to move through these visits briskly. The story feels choppy, as we get to know interesting people only to have them disappear after a couple of scenes. The most extended stop is Minneapolis, where the Pierces visit their daughter, Stacey (Selma Blair), and learn about her new love. But even that visit is rushed, as Stacey's revelations spill out at breakneck pace. Too much has to happen too quickly in "Coast to Coast," which is most noticeable in Fred Ward's brief appearance as Maxine's former lover, as he tries to establish hatred, hope, rejection, and a few other deep feelings in a single scene.

Still, Mazursky, who had his Hollywood heyday in the '70s and '80s, presents all the characters and locations with a confident hand. And watching Davis is always engaging, even when she's restrained. She can't solve the movie's structural weaknesses, but she does make the jumpy ride worth taking.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com.

'Guilty Men'rebuttal to air

NEW YORK -- In response to an uproar caused by a History Channel documentary that claimed President Lyndon Johnson was involved in the Kennedy assassination, the network will air a challenge to that program by a panel of three historians.

The special, airing 8 p.m. Wednesday, is called "The Guilty Men: An Historical Review."

The one-hour program is meant to rebut November's broadcast of "The Guilty Men," which was based in part on a book published in 2003 by Barr McClellan, who claims the law firm he quit a quarter-century ago was involved in convoluted plots that link Johnson to at least 11 deaths, including President Kennedy's.

The historians examining those allegations are author Robert Dallek, considered an authority on the presidency and on Johnson's career; Stanley Kutler, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin and a leading scholar of 20th-century American political and constitutional history; and Thomas Sugrue, an author and teacher at the University of Pennsylvania.

Former CNN newsman Frank Sesno serves as moderator of the broadcast, which will air unedited by the History Channel, the network announced yesterday, adding that no preview of the program would be available.

The Warren Commission concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole assassin involved in Kennedy's death in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, but conspiracy theorists continue to advance alternative plots.

While the three historians acknowledge lingering public doubts about the Warren Commission's findings, they dispute as unfounded the theory that President Johnson was involved. Johnson was Kennedy's vice president at the time of the assassination.

Along with other scholars, the three historians were highly critical of "The Guilty Men" last fall and of the History Channel's decision to air it. Former aides to Johnson, along with former presidents Ford and Carter and President Johnson's widow, Lady Bird Johnson, sought an independent probe of the claims.

The network yesterday apologized to its viewers, as well as to Mrs. Johnson and her family, for the program, which will no longer be aired or made available on home video. "We have a great responsibility and this time we did not live up to it," said Dan Davids, History Channel executive vice president. "We hold ourselves accountable. As we have said before, nothing is more important to us than the accuracy of our programming and the integrity of our network."

ASSOCIATED PRESS

CBS returns two classics

CBS's plans for the May sweeps period include several blasts from the past. The network will offer specials paying tribute to both "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "The Carol Burnett Show."

Up first will be "The Carol Burnett Show: Let's Bump Up the Lights" on May 5. The show will reunite variety legend Burnett with Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, Vicki Lawrence, and Lyle Waggoner for an evening of memories and never-before-seen and frequently-before-seen clips.

"The Carol Burnett Show" ran for 11 years on CBS, beginning in 1967. The 2001 special "The Carol Burnett Show: Showstoppers," drew 29.8 million viewers, making it the most-watched entertainment special (excluding awards programming) of the 2001-2002 season.

Less than a week later, on May 11, Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Carl Reiner, and Rose Marie will get back together for "The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited," a new episode of the classic series set in 2004. In addition to catching up with Rob and Laura Petrie 40 years later, the episode will feature the usual array of memories and clips.

Ray Romano will host the Dick Van Dyke special.

CBS has had recent success reuniting the casts of old chestnuts. The recent November entry, "The Andy Griffith Reunion: Back to Mayberry," pulled in more than 21.6 million viewers.

KNIGHT RIDDER

Talk of the dial

10 a.m. WBIX-AM (1060) -- "Stu Taylor on Business." Guests: Trave Harmon, Triton Technologies LLC; Fred Sears, portfolio manager, Investors Capital.

Other radio highlights

7 a.m. WGBH-FM (89.7) -- "Classical Weekend." Wagner's Polonaise; Dvorak's String Quartet in G, Op. 77; Weber's Der Freischutz Overture; Glazunov's 3 Morceaux; Vaughan William's Tuba Concerto.

8 p.m. WCRB-FM (102.5) -- "Boston Symphony Orchestra Live." Grant Llewellyn conducts Vaughan Williams's "Fantasia," Musgrave's "Turbulent Landscapes" (premiere), and Walton's "Belshazzar's Fest."

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