Showtime (Sunday, July 28, 8 p.m. ET)
The competition for your viewing time has finally gotten so intense that one network is resorting to bribery to get you to watch a show. Showtime is showing Murder in Space with no ending at the end; instead, you’re invited to guess whodunwhat and win $25,000 in cash and a trip to anywhere on earth, the grandest prize from among more than $50,000 in TV treasures. Then, after all the contest entries are in, Showtime will film the real ending—now known only by a precious few—and air it on September 14. For secrecy’s and security’s sake, they say, the screenwriter is working under a pseudonym. I can think of another reason why he’s hiding: shame. In fact, it’s surprising that the director and even the actors aren’t donning fake wigs and monikers. Murder in Space is a low-budget bore that could have used that $50,000 for production value. The movie makes a load of simple mistakes. Mistake 1: The intrigue isn’t acted out, it’s talked about. After a Soviet scientist—one of nine international astronauts on a mission to Mars—is killed, you’re told that she slept around and that she’s pregnant by one of the spacemen; and then the crew guesses which one. How much better it would have been if—even through hackneyed flashbacks—the movie had shown her coming on to her capsuled comrades so you could have the fun of guessing. Three more astronauts die and you begin to hope that all nine get lost in space. This isn’t so much a whodunit as a whocares? Mistake 2: The astronauts look as if they’re walking around some high-tech, high-rise executive suite, not in a spacecraft. They’re not weightless; you’re not even told about some futuristic gadget that creates gravity. Before the cause of the first astronaut’s death is known, the scientists speculate that Martian radiation could have killed her—as if science doesn’t know how to measure radiation and its effects. Those may sound like niticks, but it’s the nits that make sci-fi fun and believable. Mistake 3: The lines are bad. badly directed and, thus, badly delivered by Martin Balsam, Wilford Brimley, Michael Ironside and Arthur Hill. Showtime is right to resort to bribery: They’ll have to pay you to watch this extraterrestrial turkey.