Despite some puzzling production choices, the second edition of “Pioneers of Television” is a great deal of fun, providing a warm and wide-eyed trip down memory lane. Narrated by Kelsey Grammer with an almost visible twinkle, the four weekly installments — in sequence, science fiction, westerns, crime dramas and local kids TV — each have their merits, albeit with a heavy skew toward actors, perhaps inevitably, over series creators.
The one head-scratcher in “Pioneers” is the use of gauzy recreations to set some of the scenes, such as actors playing NBC executives screening the “Star Trek” pilot. Given the amount of material there is to cover, that’s not only unnecessary but a misguided waste of time, if not so deflating as to detract from the program’s finer moments.
Even TV nerds will likely find something they didn’t know in each of the installments, whether it’s how Gene Roddenberry initially wanted Jack Lord to captain the Enterprise or Martin Landau’s amusing take on the prospect of him playing Mr. Spock: “The thought of it now upsets me. It was the antithesis of why I became an actor.”
Irwin Allen, the producer of “Lost in Space” and “Time Tunnel,” was so notoriously cheap that his shows kept recycling monster costumes. The western segment, meanwhile, explores such worthy fare as “The Rifleman,” “Gunsmoke,” “Bonanza” and “The Wild Wild West,” featuring a sequence where Robert Conrad — who famously performed his own stunts — landed flat on his back, causing an injury that shut down production.
Given the number of TV luminaries featured in the project who have passed away — among them Stephen J. Cannell, Peter Graves and Fess Parker, who died last year — there’s something warming about seeing their observations and recollections captured for posterity.
The most intriguing hour is perhaps the last, which truly focuses on a bygone era: Local children’s programs, from “Time for Beany” to the franchised “Romper Room,” which sprang up across the U.S. in TV’s infancy, and eventually all but disappeared. The creativity in those simple formats — and chance to see footage of a young Jim Henson honing his craft — is a genuine treat, if a rather melancholy one.
“Pioneers of Television” is a once-over-lightly treatment, admittedly, but it’s still a concept worth celebrating. Because in a media climate so mercilessly focused on the young, it’s refreshing that even PBS would dare indulge the nostalgic whim for pioneers of anything.