NETWORK OR NOTWORK?
This week, in addition to business as usual, we look at the last two shows filling out the schedule for Fox, the weekend network. So the time has come to decide whether Fox is worth keeping around, and the answer is: Oh, what the heck, why not? True, there isn’t a grade-A show in the lot (the line-up’s GPA: C). True, the network is run by kiddie moguls who too often show their lack of maturity and taste with common, bland and gooey American cheese on video (like 21 Jump Street and Down and Out in Beverly Hills). True, Fox made two fatal errors on its Late Show: hiring Joan Rivers and firing Joan Rivers. But in a rare moment of charity, I must remind you that they’ve only just begun and that older and bigger networks still turn out shows as bad as Werewolf, Mr. President and Karen’s Song. What’s important is that Fox has turned out four OK shows: Tracey Ullman, Married…With Children, Duet (which has grown on me and now gets upgraded from C+ to B) and maybe Beans Baxter. So Fox doesn’t meet the highest standards, only medium standards, but they deserve the chance to keep trying…. Before moving on, I must make one plea: If nothing else comes out of these lengthy, painful Iran-contra hearings, I hope that Congress at least passes a law forbidding Ted Koppel to take vacations in the middle of national crises. We missed him—and need him—on Nightline.
IN PERFORMANCE AT THE WHITE HOUSE
PBS (Wed., July 29, 9 p.m. ET)
No, this performance at the White House is not Ollie North’s slide show, but there are topical titters to be had, like emcee Marvin Hamlisch singing to President Reagan: “If you’re ever in a jam, here I am.” Guess we’ll see Marv testifying soon. Actually, in a show recorded in the East Room in June, Hamlisch, Mel Tormé, Patti Austin, Kaye Ballard and June Allyson perform great old Cole Porter hits, tunes that inspire Nancy Reagan to declare, “That’s my time.” The songs are super, so’s Patti Austin and, to my surprise, I find myself agreeing with Harry Anderson on Night Court when he defends Tormé. The Velvet Fog can’t be beat.
DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS
Fox (Saturdays, 8 p.m. ET)
They’ve finally done it. They’ve created the generic sitcom. You have your basic, off-the-shelf wisecracking mom (Anita Morris), your harried pop (Hector Elizondo), your bad son, your good daughter, your wacky but lovable oddball (Tim Thomerson as the bum) and your family pet (Mike the Dog). And you have your generic plots: Mother-in-law comes to visit; the good daughter acts bad to get attention. The show is supposed to be based on Down and Out (the movie)—a mediocre inspiration if there ever was one—but ends up looking more like the gang from Married…With Children after they’ve won the lottery. They’re still crude and still wry, but money has made them dull. Down and Out doesn’t look terrible simply because it looks so familiar; you’ve seen these characters and heard these lines in dozens of shows before. Like any generic product, Down and Out does the job. But like generic beer, it lacks distinction, and like generic paper towels, it tends to fall apart.
Fox (Saturdays, 9:30 p.m. ET)
We all loved Patty Duke, both of her, back in 1963 when she played identical cousins. But she hasn’t had much luck in sitcoms since. It Takes Two in 1982 took one season to fail. Hail to the Chief in 1985 was an impeachable offense. Now, sorry to say, it looks as if Karen’s Song does to Patty Duke what Life With Lucy did to Lucille Ball. Watching this thing is more painful than listening to a Henry Hyde filibuster in the Iran-contra hearings. Duke plays a divorced mom who finally gets her life in line. “I feel as if I can do anything,” she enthuses. “I’ve got a new house, a new job. Maybe it has something to do with turning 40.” At the word 40, her buddy Lainie Kazian shushes her: “We do not use the F word in public.” That was the only decent line in the premiere, already aired. Worse lines followed when Duke fell for a man 12 years younger, Lewis (North and South) Smith. He owns a sandwich business called A Tasteful Affair—so of course when he offers Duke lunch he says, “How about A Tasteful Affair?” The audience giggles. I burp.
CAROLE KING: ONE TO ONE
A & E (Sun., Aug. 2, 9 p.m. ET)
Love beads popped spontaneously around my neck. My jeans mysteriously developed white, tie-dyed splotches and grew bell bottoms. I was transported back to the ’60s when I heard Carole King say: “Without you, there is no us…. Living close to nature has confirmed everything of value in my life…. We’re all part of the same energy source.” Like, wow. In this concert, taped in 1981 but never shown nationally, King comes off as a quaint anachronism and a shocking reminder of how much we’ve all changed in 20 years; did we really sound like that then? But even so, and even though her voice isn’t as strong and clear as it used to be, she still gives us nicely nostalgic renditions of her tunes: A Natural Woman, Jazz Man, Smackwater Jack, I Feel the Earth Move, You’ve Got a Friend and So Far Away. Far-out, man.