{mosimage}One of cable’s deadliest traditions is the interview with a faded old star, conducted by a starchy James Lipton type. The only drama in such shows is waiting to see if either interviewee or host lapses into a coma.

Alec Baldwin’s interview with Gene Wilder in Role Model (Tuesday, 8 p.m., TCM) is altogether different. This isn’t a stiff hour of hero worship, but a lively conversation full of anecdotes and insight. Baldwin is masterful in the interviewer’s role (someone please sign this man up for his own talk show immediately), and Wilder responds with candor and eloquence.

 He admits to being “a very mixed-up fellow” as a young man. Years of therapy straightened him out, and years of training in the Actors Studio and Broadway productions prepared him for a career in movies. Wilder tells memorable stories about making The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Willy Wonka and Young Frankenstein, the latter featuring his own script. It’s startling to hear this gentle man admit that he worked up Dr. Frankenstein’s maniacal frenzy by tapping into “rage at my first wife.”

Remind me never to marry Gene Wilder.


Miss USA

Friday, 9 p.m. (NBC)

At last year’s Miss Teen USA, Miss South Carolina babbled incoherently in her Q&A and became an instant airhead celebrity. She appeared on talk shows, news shows and awards shows as America paid tribute to her formidable stupidity. Meanwhile, the articulate young woman who actually won the pageant was forgotten within seconds.

I’m sure the lesson was not lost on the current Miss USA contestants. Don’t expect any of them to make a lick of sense in the interview segment.


The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

Saturday, 9 p.m. (Lifetime)

This TV movie lives up to its dumb title. Based on Kim Edwards’ bestseller, it’s an over-the-top melodrama about a doctor (Dermot Mulroney) who delivers his own twin babies in a howling snowstorm. He’s horrified to see that one of them has Down syndrome, so he orders the nurse (Emily Watson) to take it to an institution, then tells his wife (Gretchen Mol) that the baby died during the delivery. But the nurse smuggles the baby to another city and raises it as her own.

The movie takes itself very seriously, with an abundance of tears, rain, flashbacks and accusing glances. There’s not a hint of laughter, unless you count your own.


American Experience

Monday, 10 p.m. (PBS) 

Walt Whitman’s words still leap off the page, but Whitman himself doesn’t leap off the screen in PBS’s profile. It’s a solid enough introduction, but when the subject is America’s first great poet, would it be too much to ask for a bit of poetry in the filmmaking? And, no, shots of floating swans and waving grass don’t count.

We get conventional talking heads discussing the stunningly unconventional Leaves of Grass, and it’s kind of a letdown. You sense that the filmmakers were afraid to take off their shoes and roll around in the mud, ł la Whitman. Not me, though č I’m sitting naked in the forest as I write this blurb.

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