Channel hop

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 April, 2012, 12:00am


The Vietnam conflict was the 'television war', so called because it marked the first time TV played a significant role in shaping American public opinion about warfare. Without the violence of battle being beamed into the living rooms of Middle America on a nightly basis, the conflict might have dragged on even longer than its 19 years.

Ironically, in today's age of media saturation, TV has failed to have a similar effect on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps it's because, this time, the people fighting it on behalf of the United States are volunteers, meaning only a small sector of American society - the poor, mostly - is directly involved with, or touched by, the fighting on the ground. And so it has been harder to muster the political will or outrage required to hasten the end of the American deployment. It has also been harder for TV news to demand the attention of viewers who don't feel invested in the war beyond the effect it has at the petrol pump.

Would it be different if the US public were exposed to more personal stories from the front lines?

How do the soldiers see war? How are they affected by it on a long-term basis? What nightmares do their families experience? These are the questions explored in a series called Vietnam: Lost Films (right; History Channel, tomorrow, 9pm), a six-hour, three-part miniseries that relies on restored footage from private collections, museums and veterans' organisations.

Narrated, somewhat perversely, by Michael C. Hall, star of serial-killer TV show Dexter, the series takes an empathic view, telling the story of the war through the eyes of the people who fought it and the families that had to live through it. A prominent cast is behind the voicing, including Ed Burns, Dean Cain and Jennifer Love Hewitt, but ultimately the wrenching war stories (rightly) overshadow the efforts of the underemployed actors. On the off chance you had forgotten what a disagreeable venture war is, this will serve as a sharp reminder of the horrors it can wreak.

You'd hope that other primates were a little nicer to each other. And sometimes they are. Bonobos, for instance, are awesome. They're total peaceniks and share sex like we share candy (that is, liberally, and with multiple partners). But some of the others can be pretty nasty. Chimps, for example, have been known to tear competitors to shreds, literally. However, we share just as much DNA with bonobos as we do with chimps - so put that knife down.

In The Secret Life of Primates (BBC Knowledge; premieres Thursday, 10.55pm), zoologist Charlotte Uhlenbroek takes a small handheld camera deep into the forests of Uganda and Borneo to capture the unsullied lifestyles of our internet-deprived cousins, including chimps, baboons, gorillas and orang-utans, in an intimate jungle experience that highlights some truly intriguing moments of emotional interaction between human and primate. If you thought war was a mere expression of our base instincts, you'd do well to consider these creatures in the wild. Sure, they can be rough, but you might be surprised at the levels of co-operation and empathy they can display, despite never having seen an episode of Dawson's Creek.

And just in case you're left in any doubt about which is the superior being, you can confirm just how low we've stooped by watching The Queen's Palaces (TVB Pearl; weekly episodes starting on Friday, 8.30pm), an aristocratic take on MTV's Cribs. Host Fiona Bruce shows off the art, architecture and history of three of the queen of England's homes; places you'd never be able to afford.

First up: Buckingham Palace - about as far away from My Lai as you could get.