December 30, 1974 12:00 PM

Burt Lancaster stars for CBS in one of the few “specials” that is neither a “roast” of a Hollywood has-been nor a mawkish celebration of the Bicentennial. Burt plays Moses in The Lawgiver, six one-hours from the Book of Exodus (co-adapted by the formidable Anthony Burgess) and shot in the Holy Land. Also featured (as young Moses) is Burt’s boy William, 27. The network denies the report that Mason Reese is cast as the burning bush.

Nefertiti-phizzed singers Cher and Telma Hopkins (far right) signal the resurrection of a mummified TV format—the variety show. Cher ventures her first series sans ex-mate Sonny on CBS in February. And look-alike Telma, along with Joyce Vincent Wilson, plays foil in a sort of road company Sonny & Cher in an already premiered CBS show, Tony Orlando and Dawn. The trio boasts the monster record hit, Tie A Yellow Ribbon, and though the Dawn girls are charmingly sassy, there is a mediocrity about the patter, the arrangements and Tony that defies its high ratings. For the real thing in 1975, pray for Cher.

Whatever it’s labeled in China, in televisionland 1975 is the Year of the Lear. Producer Norman Lear—who revolutionized the medium by introducing All in the Family, San ford & Son, Maude and Good Times—is becoming practically a network unto himself. This January, Archie Bunker’s upwardly mobile black neighbors will be spun off by CBS into The Jeffersons, and ABC is premiering Lear’s adaptation from off-Broadway, HOT L BAL TIMORE. Pilots in the works include Panama Fargo, starring Jackie Gleason, and Here After, with Zero Mostel’s son Josh. Too many spin-offs? No, it’s the American way, cracks Lear. “The idea is as old as the first hooker who became a wife.”

It’s very embarrassing to ask me if I’m going to dump Barbara Walters—I’ve only been in New York three times for a total of eight days.” Stephanie Edwards talking, the new morning show girl in town. Come her January premiere, ABC television is staking $8 million on the competitive attractiveness of Stephanie and her AM America colleagues against NBC’s Today show.

Edwards says up front she doesn’t have the “deep journalistic experience” of Walters. After all, she is only a 31-year-old dairy farmer’s daughter from Minnesota and a sometime starlet (the film Maurie, TV’s The Girl with Something Extra). But for nearly four years Stephanie has been the zingy, zany co-star of Ralph Story’s AM, a local Los Angeles show which just happened to run head-to-head locally with—and to outrate—NBC’s Today.

Nationally, the long established (22 years) Today is hardly a target of opportunity. CBS made a futile run on it in 1958 with Walter Cronkite, no less, as anchor (and with a writer named Barbara Walters). And more recently CBS flamed out again, with Sally Quinn as co-anchor. ABC is counter-programming with a show run by the entertainment, not the news, division. It is gunning frankly for a younger audience that, says the producer, “doesn’t want their nerve endings jangled” that early in the day. Enter the lank, redheaded Edwards. “She’s like looking at a fresh daisy,” observes one old L.A. regular. The worst thing anyone ever said about Stephanie was a letter from Lucille Ball, asking, “Who is that insane, woolly girl?”

It took ABC two years to coax Stephanie to come to New York. She is divorced and her man, actor-songwriter Murray MacLeod, is coming with her. “It was a very heavy decision,” she concedes, “and it’ll make or break our relationship.” Stephanie herself is not without doubts about the new job, and obviously the success of the show depends upon other elements like co-anchor Bill Beutel and the scheduled mix of politicos emeriti like Sam Ervin and John Lindsay. And, of course, the competition. “But Barbara Walters can’t milk a cow,” quipped an AM America colleague. Stephanie may not be able to either on Jan. 6, her premiere. “I’ll walk in,” she says, “with very sweaty palms.”

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