'Survive Siberia\" Looks At The People Who Endure Nature's Tests

Posted: June 18, 1992

"Big salary, that's why people come here," says the stolid Russian. "To make money."

The "here" is Siberia, not exactly the place that pops into American minds when the conversation turns to big money.

More typical associations are: Arctic wastelands, ice-choked waterways,

salt mines, Stalin's labor camps, reindeer and fur-clad inhabitants.

But to those trying to run this struggling new country, formerly the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the profit potential from gold, oil and natural gas is Siberia's chief asset.

"Survive Siberia," this season's last installment of ABC's often excellent World of Discovery series, treks off to one of the harshest places man has chosen to live in the world, examinining some aspects of that life.

It's necessarily a cursory treatment. Siberia is huge, though exactly how big is not defined here. There are lots of facts like that left unexplained in a show that tries to combine Rescue 911 with National Geographic's Explorer.

Will the amazing, nuclear-powered ice breaker - the one that went to the North Pole in 1977 - free the ice-bound ships carrying food so that the 35,000 frosty and desperately isolated residents of Pewek won't starve?

Can the geologists save their strange overland vehicle - the one that has the metal treads because rubber tires would shatter in the impossible cold? The world's record temperature - 98.7 degrees below zero - was logged in Siberia, we are told. The average winter temperature in Pewek is 54 below.

"Average winter temperature" is a vague sort of statement, and 54 below sounds suspiciously incorrect, until you realize that the winter sun doesn't shine much north of the Arctic Circle.

Soviet bureaucrats have dealt with the weather's deleterious health aspects: We see a gaggle of children in skivvies and goggles dancing around ultraviolet lamps to get their daily dose of vitamin D.

We meet a man who buried four or five people a day, of the estimated 10 million who died in Siberian exile under Stalin. (There were no prisons. If you ran from the labor camps, you froze to death.)

And we see Chukchi people - whose ancestors are also ancestors of the Eskimo - performing rituals with reindeer blood. Reindeer, which require 120 acres each to thrive, are not only used in religion, they are the natives' only protein source.

Pipeline pollution, from the energy-starved Commonwealth of Independent States, threatens native existence. "Oil and gas at any price means our death," says one.

The documentary is not up to the standards of earlier World of Discovery offerings. Still, it's a cool alternative to the summer reruns elsewhere at 8 tonight.

*

Bodies of Evidence, a new summer series on CBS, stars Lee Horsley as the boss of a homicide squad. Women are raped and strangled. A man is knifed in his bed. Storekeepers are blown away by armed robbers.

The detectives have their foibles. The TV reporter is a sleaze. Some cases are solved; others aren't. Some victims are noble; others aren't. Most of the show's women are degraded, and there's a lot of gratuitous sex talk and bathroom scenes.

Give Al Fann a box of special fancies from the doughnut shop for his performance as Walt Stratton, the consummate tough detective with a heart. Everybody else gets day-old crullers for this warmed-over effort that cops

from every police show from the last 40 years.

WORLD OF DISCOVERY: SURVIVE SIBERIA

Written and produced by Steve Eder and executive produced by Dennis Kane for ABC/Kane Productions. Airs tonight at 8 on ABC (Channel 6).

The cast:

Narrator - Linda Hunt

BODIES OF EVIDENCE

Executive produced by David Jacobs and James L. Conway for Lorimar Television.

Airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on CBS (Channel 10).

Lt. Carroll - Lee Horsley

Det. Walker - George Clooney

Det. Haughton - Kate McNeil

Det. Stratton - Al Fann

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