IT'S a press conference at New York's City Hall. Michael Moore from Michael Moore's TV Nation (BBC2) puts a question about corruption to the Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani.

"Why won't you meet our corporate-crime chicken, Crackers, and discuss this with him?" asks Moore.

"Because this isn't a joke and you're presenting it that way," says Giuliani.

"This isn't a joke," says Moore.

"The chicken is a joke," says someone off-camera.

"The chicken is not a joke," says Moore. "The chicken is fighting crime. He's right out the window there."

Outside City Hall, a man dressed as a chicken waves through the window.

Michael Moore had got hold of a story about First Boston Corporation getting a $50m tax break on the condition that they didn't eliminate any jobs. Soon after, First Boston went ahead and fired 200 people. So Moore went with Crackers, a pantomime chicken dedicated to fighting corporate crime (which costs the country umpteen times more than street crime) to First Boston Corporation. The security men put their hands in front of the cameras and told them they were persona non grata. "He's chicken non grata," Moore told them, before heading off to City Hall.

The secret of Michael Moore, who returned with a new series this week, is that what he does isn't exactly a joke. But he treats it that way. One reporter investigates a thriving business that cleans up dead bodies at the scenes of crimes. Another talks to a young man who gets a certificate for community service by picketing the funerals of Aids victims. The stories are done in a jaunty parodic style, with soundtracks from famous movies and bright, faux naif commentaries. The genre is mocked as much as the subject matter. It's slightly twisted.

The lesson to learn from TV Nation is watch out for people with serious voices. They are usually wearing suits and selling you something weird. A man dressed up as a chicken looks pretty silly; a man in a suit only starts to look silly when he explains (as the Mayor does) that giving tax breaks to a company that fires people is a complex thing that is very important to the city of New York.

Think of experiences that you would be happy to forgo and then think of Fred Amphlett. While he was fully conscious he had a hole drilled in his head and a needle stuck deep into his brain. But then what Fred had before was worse. He'd had Parkinson's, a degenerative brain disease, since he was in his thirties.

He's 48 now, and his body writhes uncontrollably. To combat this he takes 3,000 tablets and 7,000 injections a year. The side effects have begun to outweigh the benefits so medication had reached its limit. The only possibility - a new one - is an operation on his brain. The snag is, he must be awake.

"The brain has no perception of pain," the neurosurgeon assured Fred.

"I'll take your word for it," said Fred.

QED: A Hole in Fred's Head (BBC1) had the qualities of a classic medical weepie: a humorous, resilient central character, a saint-like wife, a deteriorating situation and a leap in the dark. This wasn't a knife-edge drama: the edges of knives are too blunt. A millimetre in the wrong direction and Fred would suffer paralysis or loss of vision. "You're in such critical structures," the neurosurgeon confessed, before the operation. "I can't think of anything more stressful than that."

QED pitched it just right: this was a story they didn't need to overstate. They had excellent access and drew forth candid responses. Short of following the needle into the brain, the camera went everywhere. When Fred rose from the hospital bed, immediately after the operation, it felt like a biblical scene. The camera followed him walking out of the operating theatre down the corridor and into the ward. "Not bad at all," he said, "Bloody marvellous." He could hug his wife for the first time in years. If the story hadn't been true, it would have been hard to believe in such a happy ending.

In Lisa Clayton Alone around the World (BBC2) we saw the on-board video of the British yachtswoman's nine- month voyage. Lisa is very sparing with her material. She travelled 31,000 miles and came back with enough for a 30-minute programme. Not quite enough, in fact. They padded it out with Lisa at home, Lisa at work, Lisa's parents, the project director, aerial shots of The Spirit of Birmingham leaving and then, 285 days later, returning. Worst of all there were shots of surfers at Cape Town. There was so little time and all we wanted to see was how Lisa was going to cope.

Lisa maintained editorial control of the video cameras, switching them on and off. Often, like a Blue Peter presenter, she showed us something that she'd prepared earlier: "just a little drop of wine ... cheers!" When she switched it off it was because the strain was too great and she was in tears. Video cameras have yet to develop an automatic tabloid instinct, so when Lisa broke down, it failed to zoom in for a lingering close-up.

Luckily for a yachtswoman, Lisa's personality is nothing if not buoyant. You had to judge her mental progress by the state of her hair, the width of her eyes and the stiffness of the drink in her hand. You worked out the weather by watching the papers slide off the table or the waves behind turning at 90 degrees.

If someone spends 285 days on their own, it's her thoughts we want to hear. We don't need some chummy narrator saying: "Soon the wind is up to its old tricks." You might feel that Lisa, who gets thrown into the sea during a storm, has earned the right to be nonchalant about the wind, but not anyone else. It was a programme that could have been twice as long with half as much in it. But then it would have had to concentrate on the journey rather than the goal.

Half an hour is a short time to spend sailing round the world with Lisa, but a long time to spend waiting for a connecting train. The 30 minutes Oscar Wilde spent on the platform of Clapham Junction, handcuffed, in prison clothes, and facing a jeering crowd, caused him to weep every day for a year. It's a hundred years since the Wilde trial, and, if it seems a long time ago, Indecent Acts (C4) suggested that it wasn't.

We moved between Wilde's case and contemporary ones. A clergyman preserved his gloomy anonymity by sitting in front of a window in a darkened room. He was balding and bespectacled; he was also married with children. One day he was in a public lavatory and there seemed to be "obvious signs" that the man in the next door cubicle was staying there too. The clergyman wrote him a note. No reply. He wrote him another. Still no reply. So he gave up and left. As indecent acts go, it ranks as fairly courteous.

Outside the clergyman was arrested. The other man was a detective. The case was splashed across the papers and the magistrate threatened to send him to jail. A hundred years on, the actions taken by the police, the courts and the press still raised as many questions about decent behaviour as the alleged offence.

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