Oscar Hammerstein II, a lyricist and librettist of the 20th...

Oscar Hammerstein II, a lyricist and librettist of the 20th century. Credit: Courtesy of Rodgers and Hammerstein: An Imagem Company. /

THE SHOW "Oscar Hammerstein II: Out of My Dreams"

WHEN | WHERE Tuesday at 8 on WNET/13

REASON TO WATCH Portrait of Broadway's greatest librettist and lyricist.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Oscar Hammerstein II was born in New York in 1895 and died in Pennsylvania in 1960, and over those 65 years wrote around 1,000 songs via a handful of collaborations -- most notably with Jerome Kern and Richard Rodgers -- that yielded the best loved and most influential musicals in Broadway history ("South Pacific," "Show Boat," "Oklahoma!").

This special includes clips from some of the films, original interviews with Stephen Sondheim, Harold Prince, Mitzi Gaynor and Shirley Jones, as well as family members. (Outtakes of an old interview with son James, who died in 1999, are also included.)

Hammerstein also had a huge impact on that other giant of musical theater, Sondheim -- a close friend of James in childhood, and effectively apprenticed by Hammerstein -- who says that as a boy and musical theater aspirant, "he treated me like an adult ... so the result was that I came away with dignity and a feeling like I was worth paying attention to."

MY SAY Beware any special that lands on the PBS lineup during a pledge month that has either or both of the names "Rodgers" or "Hammerstein" in the title. A considerable amount of tub-thumping is certain to ensue as the local station fills its coffers while viewers patiently await that can't-miss clip of "Getting to Know You."

The special does, in fact, do an adequate job of positioning Hammerstein's legacy within musical theater, but it also feels hasty and incomplete. There's almost nothing about his early life, even less about the Kern collaboration (no mention at all of Vincent Youmans), while the discussion about Rodgers is fleeting. Some of this may be of necessity -- figure about a half-hour of this 90-minute special will be devoted to the pledge drive -- but musical theater buffs may still be disappointed.

However, what's especially good here, besides the Sondheim asides, is the focus on Hammerstein's politics, which his best work reflected.

BOTTOM LINE Hammerstein gets his due here -- just not enough is given.

GRADE B-

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