December 29, 1975 12:00 PM

For better or worse for the restructuring of the relationship between men and women in America, the networks alone will carry an unprecedented and stupefying average of 24 hours a week of sports during the Olympic year of 1976. That includes a CBS Saturday-afternoon series called The Challenge of the Sexes, in which 15 male superstars face 15 females in their specialties. In some events, the rules are Riggs-ed—in golf, for example, Laura Baugh hits from the closer women’s tees against Doug Sanders, and in tennis Evonne Goolagong defends the singles court while opponent Ilie Nastase has to pantingly cover the wider doubles lines and gets only one serve. Those handicaps don’t diminish the drama nearly so much as the fact that the matches were pre-taped and that the results inevitably leak. Insiders already know that women more than held their own. In events already in the can, Baugh whupped Sanders, basketball great Jerry West was clobbered in a schoolyard shooting game of H-O-R-S-E by Karen Logan; and that post-match look on Nasty’s puss (with Goolagong below) was not the smirk of victory.

Remember the old days when TV was fun and the Bicentennial was kissed off in minutes? This year the running time of most of the commemorations will stretch 90 minutes or whole evenings, and it could be hard to tell the commercial channels from PBS. The observance will bring out every entertainer’s latent John Wayne. Shirley MacLaine, whose last backdrop was the Great Wall of China, will warble Ain’t Down Yet at the Statue of Liberty in an ABC special which will also hear Frank Sinatra deliver The House I Live In—not from Palm Springs but the Jefferson Memorial. Among the stars in the countless historical restagings, Henry Fonda’s Douglas MacArthur meets E.G. Marshall’s Harry S Truman in Collision Course. That’s on ABC, while in an NBC Potsdam Conference re-creation (above), Ed Flanders is HST, with John Houseman’s Churchill and Jose Ferrer’s Stalin. “There’s an awful lot of gimcrackery about the Bicentennial,” confesses Edward Herr-man, himself playing FDR in ABC’s Eleanor and Franklin. A lot of the historical drama is “disastrous,” he says. Even the critics may get homesick for the Vast Wasteland.

‘Six Million-Dollar Man’ has popped into the top five for at least two reasons: it’s slotted against troubled Cher, and its ratings were hypoed by four visits from a guest with four artificial parts herself (not counting the role). Inexorably, ABC spun her into a series, titled The Bionic Woman. The price of star Lindsay Wagner, 26, isn’t $6 mill but close: $500,000 a season, five movies plus a piece of the bionic-doll biz.

He was 52 when Gunsmoke ended its 20-year run last summer, but James Arness was not ready to be stuffed like Roy Rogers’ Trigger. “He’s like a race horse,” observes producer Al (The Godfather) Ruddy. “He’s always ready for another go around the track.” As it happened, Ruddy had a property in mind, The Macahans, a small-bore version of the film epic, How the West Was Won. Actually, Arness plays Jimmy Stewart, the mountainman hero, only because Kirk Douglas was unavailable. The series was pitched to ABC, but not picked up for the upcoming “second season” this winter. For the first time since Hopalong Cassidy, there will be no Western on any network. But the Macahans pilot will air as an ABC movie-of-the-week, and Arness is hopeful of lighting in the September lineup. He has been more reclusive than ever since last year, when his only daughter died of a drug overdose possibly over the lost love of Gregg Allman. A comeback hit would give old Matt a happier memory to ride off with into Sun City.

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