HERE WE GO AGAIN
It may be a bit of a typographical fib to print the names of the networks’ new shows below in bold. There’s hardly anything bold about TV’s fall seasons anymore. That’s when the nets give us the likes of Leg Work, Everything’s Relative, Dolly, Buck James and J.J. Starbuck (remember them?). No, TV’s daring days now come more and more in the spring with midseason replacements like The Wonder Years, China Beach and Coming of Age. But the nets need to be daring all year round to keep from losing ever more viewers to cable, VCRs and independent stations. Last season, according to the new people-meter ratings system, the nets lost 9 percent of their audience—6.4 million people. And this year the situation gets downright dire with the writers’ strike threatening to delay the debut of most shows until November or even next year. But networks being corporations and corporations being cautious beasts, it’s not surprising to see much that looks familiar—too yawningly familiar—in this early roundup of the shows in the new season (check the grid for times).
First, the bad news—the slimy, sleazy, horrible news: Tabloid TV is spreading. On the dark side of this trend, NBC is turning its voyeuristic and violent Unsolved Mysteries into a weekly series. On the fluffy side, ABC is resurrecting That’s Incredible! as Incredible Sunday. They call this reality TV—but to paraphrase a ’60s bumper sticker: When it comes from the entertainment division, not the news division, reality stinks.
There is some good news. For the first time in a long time, the schedule is not drenched in blood and bodily fluids. I count only one testosterone fest, Knightwatch, about volunteer vigilantes who shoo crime off the streets.
CBS is bringing back two beloved (i.e., old) stars. In The Van Dyke Show, Dick Van Dyke and his real-life son Barry play actors running a struggling theater company. And Dick’s long-ago co-star Mary Tyler Moore returns as a divorced New York bureaucrat in a still-untitled sitcom. This time Mary tries for laughs without a laugh track—but so far, thank goodness, I haven’t heard anyone call the show a dramedy.
ABC, meanwhile, resurrects old stars in an old format—the rotating mystery movie last seen when Columbo, McCloud and McMillan and Wife shared alternate Sunday nights on NBC. Now, on ABC’s Saturday Mystery Movie, Peter Falk returns as Columbo, this time sharing his slot with Burt Reynolds as a retired New York cop in Florida and Louis Gossett Jr. as an anthropology professor who roams the globe. NBC also uses the rotating movie gimmick in The Magical World of Disney, featuring a few occasional series—The Absent-Minded Professor with Harry (Night Court) Anderson and a new Davy Crockett—plus specials, including Hayley Mills in Parent Trap 3.
Last season, TV tried to bring back the variety show. But Dolly was doomed, and The Smothers Brothers smothered. Hallelujah! So this season CBS tries to resuscitate another genre, the Western. In Paradise, Lee (Matt Houston) Horsley plays an 1890s gunfighter who raises his dying sister’s four kids. Meanwhile, back at NBC, the folks who canceled Star Trek and flopped with V are trying once more to revive sci-fi by turning last month’s mini Something Is Out There into a weekly series starring Joe Cortese as an earthling and Maryam d’Abo as an alien in search of an evil monster. And silly, sentimental ol’ ABC just can’t give up on the insurance genre, even after Robert Wagner fizzled playing an insurance investigator in Lime Street. Now comes Murphy’s Law with George Segal as the insurance man with the actuarial tables.
Yes, the networks like old, familiar things. So CBS brings us two shows set to old, familiar songs. Almost Grown stars Tim Daly and Eve Gordon as a couple who mark events in their lives with the ditties of the ’60s, 70s and ’80s, starting with Today I Met the Boy I’m Gonna Marry. And Dirty Dancing the movie becomes a sitcom starring Patrick Cassidy and Melora Hardin as the hoofers and McLean (Hello, Larry) Stevenson as a dad.
One more movie spin-off: Baby Boom, starring Kate Jackson in Diane Keaton’s role as a super-yup who becomes an instant mom. I saw a few clips. Looks cute. Of course, that’s not the only nuked family on the schedule. TV’s Beaver backlash continues with lots of messed-up homes: In Dear John, Judd (Taxi) Hirsch plays a man whose wife leaves him. Same thing happens in Close to Home, except when James Naughton’s wife leaves to discover herself, she also leaves behind their teenage daughter. In Empty Nest, a Golden Girls spin-off, Richard (Soap) Mulligan’s wife leaves him—she dies—and he has to cope with two grown daughters, Kristy (Family) McNichol and Dinah (Soap) Manoff. A Fine Romance stars Anthony (The Woman He Loved) Andrews and Margaret Whitton as co-hosts of a TV series who work together even though they’re divorced. On Roseanne, comic Roseanne Barr will try to find yucks in her yucky life as a housewife. And finally, Murphy Brown features Candice Bergen as a TV reporter who’s messed up her life all on her own: She just got out of the Betty Ford Center.
So far, I count two shows on TV about TV. Just for the sake of narcissism, add one more: TV 101 combines Lou Grant with Bronx Zoo as Sam Robards plays a journalism teacher who turns the school paper into a TV show. And here’s a TV show about a radio show: In Midnight Caller, Gary (Fatal Vision) Cole plays a cop who accidentally shoots his partner and becomes a talk-show host, It looks neat and sexy.
Just one more: The folks who brought you St. Elsewhere now bring you Tattinger’s, starring Stephen (The Two Mrs. Grenvilles) Collins as a high-society New York restaurateur with Mary Beth Hurt as his chef, Jerry Stiller as his manager and the ever-wonderful Blythe Danner as his ex-wife.