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Guthrie's talents are put to a new test

As folk singer Arlo Guthrie sees it, his first attempt at television won't make or break his career.

"It's too late to ruin my career," Guthrie says about his role in The Byrds of Paradise, a midseason show on ABC that made its debut Thursday at 8 p.m. on WTSP-10. "I can't blow it. I'm already established with the people who know me, and those who don't, they weren't going to know me anyway."

Guthrie, best known for his 1967 song of protest, Alice's Restaurant Massacre, and as the son of legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie, last acted in 1971, when the movie version of the song was filmed. And even that wasn't really acting, Guthrie said.

"I wasn't an actor doing Alice's Restaurant. I was playing Arlo. And I wasn't the only one. The blind judge played himself and the officer played himself," Guthrie says about the movie of his real-life, 1960s tale of being arrested for illegally dumping garbage on private property in Massachusetts. "Everybody was sort of re-creating history, like they do with the cop shows on TV now."

As for Alice, she's fine and running a restaurant on Cape Cod. Guthrie bought the church in Great Barrington, Mass., that once served as Alice's home and was featured in the movie. It's now the home of Guthrie's Rising Son Records and The Guthrie Center, which provides community services to AIDS patients, abused children and the elderly.

On the show, Guthrie plays Alan Moon, a '60s refugee and former marijuana grower who shielded the son of a prominent family from jail by taking full blame for the operation. The boy's family owns a school and Moon, now 45, cashes in the favor to get admitted to the school so he can earn his high school degree. Timothy Busfield (thirtysomething) plays the school's headmaster, Sam Byrd.

Guthrie had no desire or plan to get in front of a camera, but a joke by Bill Rosenthal, a friend and host of a cable TV show in southern California, started a chain-reaction of events that led Guthrie to take his band, Xavier, off the road, leave his family on the mainland and come to Hawaii to take a flyer on a TV show.

CNN PRESENTS: CNN Presents, the all-news network's recent entry into the prime-time magazine format, takes an in-depth look at illegal drag racing today during the 9-10 p.m. timeslot.

The segment by correspondent Art Harris talks to real-life James Deans, who, 40 years after Rebel Without A Cause, are taking to the streets for thrills. But injuries and death are part of this dangerous ride as well. Harris visits Florida, where illegal drag racing has killed seven people and fueled growing outrage. Harris, known for years for his acclaimed features for the Washington Post, spent time with a group of young drag racers in Fort Lauderdale, and presents first-hand footage of the teens planning their races in secrecy to outwit police, and of the actual drag racing.

"What we found was this a really dangerous situation that's happening in our own backyard," said Harris by phone. "Illegal drag racing is something we thought of as just being in the movies of James Dean, but it's back on the street. Florida is a window of a national trend."

"What struck me," added Harris, "was that this was part of America's subculture of speed, and it will never go away. It's part of the thrill, maybe a rite of passage."

Also on CNN Presents: Stamp of Shame, a look at what gets lost in the mail every year; and Dam Expensive, why the Hoover Dam is the most expensive visitor center ever built by the federal government.