This Magic Moment …

Amy Grants "Three Wishes"; Andrew Glassman makes them happen.

The new NBC prime-time series, debuting Friday, Sept. 23, is a magic lamp of a mitzvah, with Grammy Award-winning singer/host Grant touring the country to offer those in need of luck a rub of rachmanes. The series is at once heart-rending, heartbreaking – and a hearty piece of Americana.

Indeed, if charity begins at home, then tzedakah has found a welcome mat awaiting it at NBC.

And putting out that mat is Glassman, the former Philadelphia TV newsman and CNBC star now making his own headlines as executive producer of such inspired fare.

Jewish genie? The "Average Joe" producer has had extraordinary success with the down-and-out and lift-'em-up inspirationals that offer amazing grace to those taking part.

And if the reality-series storm is abating somewhat, there's no doubt how welcome a breeze into the life of contestants is a series granting wishes and good fortune.

Of course, no one could have timed the series to the catastrophe that is Katrina, a cataclysm that has shaken the country by its heart. "I wouldn't want to say that there's any fortuitous timing involved in this at all," says Glassman, saddened by the devastation he has visited personally in New Orleans. "There is nothing particularly timely."

But there is something definitely relevant: "Everyone is in the mood for uplifting stories."

And it's some heavy lifting that the show provides. When bad things happen to good people, it's nice to know there are those around – even if they're trailed by TV cameras – willing to lift the world from those shoulders burdened by bad luck and even worse timing.

Changing times? The series doesn't offer 15 minutes of fame for those participating; it's more like an eternity of karmic cleansing. "The people in this show are not the type looking for 15 minutes of fame. They're in the middle of a real-life crisis," insists Glassman.

Camera-ready? They're ready for any assistance. And what differentiates this show from other unscripteds, says the NBC 10 alum, is that "it's a way we can really make a difference."

And that, acknowledges the protean producer, is one wish very much worth granting.

• • •

If you think Hitchcock's "The Birds" was frightening, wait till you see Micah Fink's version.

The award-winning journalist/filmmaker doesn't need Hollywood to supply his thrills and chills; he's got the real thing.

Fink's "H5N1 – Killer Flu," a PBS "Wide Angle" presentation airing Sept. 23, at 1 a.m., on WHYY-TV12, transports viewers to what some consider an inevitable and unavoidable tragedy – a pandemic avian flu outbreak that would kill millions of people.

Mourning, Vietnam – it's already taken root there, and Fink and entourage traveled to Southeast Asia, once site of a shooting war for American G.I.s, to shoot their at-once gruesome and engaging documentary.

On the wings of doves? The virus arrives on the wings of any fowl that eventually fouls the environment, as witnessed in the film. But why is Vietnam such a vulnerable victim? Poultry plays an important part in that nation's impoverished agrarian economy, where diseased pet birds are often picked apart later at the dinner table.

To a degree, the flu is also made sport of: Played out in unsanitary conditions, cock fights are just part of the cocked trigger targeting the country's heart.

The repercussions for a land where such fare is fowl is a devastating disease that unleashes a virus no Hollywood special effects expert could entertain happening; symptomatically grisly and grotesque, H5N1 is CGI gone mad. And things have not gotten any better since Fink first arrived in Vietnam to scout conditions for the film. "I am more concerned than I was at first," says Fink, whose past reporting has included Frontline's Peabody Award-winning "Lost Children of Rockdale County."

What may be lost here is the world's future.

"This has happened before," Fink relates of the 1918-1919 influenza infection that killed a staggering number of people worldwide, "and we can predict it will happen again. This is a candidate for a global pandemic."

A candidate with recall potential, however. Governments worldwide have to devote more time, energy and money funding and finding isolated outbreaks before they break away.

Yet there is a limit to what can be done to prevent avian flu from soaring. "After we finished the film in Vietnam, birds started migrating from there into Northern Asia; five weeks later, more cases were reported."

But if the disease nests overseas, what does it have to do with the U.S.? "We feel we are protected because of distance," says Fink. "But as shown by 9/11 and Katrina, the world is a small place."

Ironically, the flu is emanating from a country well-familiar to Americans. Is it the ultimate irony that Vietnam haunts us still? "I don't cast it as a Vietnam issue, but a global one."

Indeed, there is no simple panacea, no easy dose of chicken soup, as curative. "Any country that has a high density of poultry raises the greatest risks," says Fink. "In such a large population, the virus bounces around like a ping-pong ball."

Is Israel – where some kibbutzim are dedicated to raising poultry – fair game then?

"Israel is not immune," says Fink, who has visited there in the past, "but in such countries, there probably is a lot of biosecurity in place."

Fink himself feels insecure about the flu's feverish ramifications. But, living in New York with his family, he has learned to deal with threats: "You can't let your fears determine how you live your life."

The afterlife of a world struck by avian flu would be far more catastrophic than the horrendous hurt afflicted by Hurricane Katrina. "Katrina is a huge tragedy, but a contained tragedy. Avian flu would not be."

Given the controversial multilevel government response to Katrina, such actions – or inaction – would prove deadly.

"If you fumble the response to this," he says of potentially turning the reaction into a finger-pointing political football, "it will cost hundreds and hundreds of millions of lives."

How difficult will it be to make the grade?

"This is the test," says Fink, "you never want to be put to."



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