Viewpoints: The new TV season
Theorem No. 1
Any dramatic series the producers want us to take seriously as a representation of contemporary reality cannot be taken seriously as a representation of anything-except a show to be ignored by anyone capable of sitting upright in a chair and chewing gum simultaneously.
Proofs of theorem:
Mobile One (ABC, Friday, 8 pm EDT). Tedious research has established this as the worst new program on the tube. Viewers are asked to believe that a glum Jackie Cooper, who can scarcely work up the energy to articulate his lines, is an aggressive TV newsman.
In the first hour he 1) rescued a child trapped on a cliff, 2) salvaged a broken-down silent-screen star, 3) rehabilitated a suicidal paraplegic ex-rodeo performer, 4) went to jail in defense of the newsman’s right to protect his sources and 5) persuaded one of them to come forward and give evidence at a murder trial while 6) rescuing her from incipient alcoholism.
As no more than a few seconds of screen time are devoted to the sermonettes which accomplish these miracles, one must believe that the people whose lives he touches are all hermits who have never seen any of the TV shows or movies from which the incidents have been borrowed. Or that Cooper has paranormal powers of persuasion applied when the camera is not running. The latter is the more likely explanation; Mobile One is not of this world.
Joe Forrester (NBC, Tuesday, 10 pm EDT) is a Police Story spin-off, starring shrewd-but-compassionate Lloyd Bridges as a detective walking a beat in uniform, trying to clean up his old neighborhood. He appears to like everyone he meets, never steals apples from the fruit stand and is respected by the locals. Even when he is responsible for the death of both sons of a woman he has known for decades, her admiration for him remains unsullied. He is, in short, the peace officer who passeth all understanding. So does his show.
Doctors’ Hospital (NBC, Wednesday, 9 pm EDT) has George Peppard as Ben Casey redivivus — another resident neurosurgeon who sprinkles ground-up interns on his crunchy granola for breakfast, gnaws on the leg of a hospital administrator at lunch and fries incompetent colleagues for dinner. Hospital-show scripts are as predictable as hospital menus — and bear precisely the same relationship to real drama as institutional food does to haute cuisine.
Kate McShane (CBS, Wednesday, 10 pm EDT) is Comedienne Anne Meara dressed up as a lady lawyer, defending difficult cases and causes — just like a dozen male actors who previously impersonated a right-minded mouthpiece. The premiere proved its maturity by showing us that ’60s Weatherman types were really just hyperkinetic kids, capable of reform. Since everyone talked verree sloowwly in order to stretch the material to hour length, there was time to hint at a difference (known as psychopathy) between voting Socialist Labor and dynamiting buildings.
These programs being typical of “adult” programming, what is one to do? After all, even the intellectually inclined feel occasional craving for mental popcorn in the privacy of the living room. For those who find themselves in this situation, there is a fallback position…
Theorem No. 2
The only programs a grownup can possibly stand are those intended for children. Or, more properly, those that cater to those pre-adolescent fantasies that most have never truly abandoned.
The Six Million Dollar Man is a well-established example of this innocent merriment. While the children get off on their superman fantasies, Mom and Pop may mull the sexual problems and possibilities inherent in a creature who is half man, half Timex.
Proofs of theorem:
The Invisible Man (NBC, Monday, 8 pm EDT) offers similar pleasures. Kids have long thought invisibility would be a gas, and it has always been fun to see a hat floating through the frame, a voice issuing from under it, but with no figure visible beneath the Stetson. David McCallum plays the IM in his present incarnation, and he has an attractive wife which must inevitably create all sorts of bemused speculations among adult viewers. The befuddlement he causes miscreants is also amusing to behold. HG Wells himself might even enjoy the thing.
Barbary Coast (ABC, Monday, 8 pm EDT) features a less ambitious crime fighter. Instead of disappearing entirely, William Shatner vanishes into several disguises per show in order to sanitize the notorious district of the title. Doug McClure plays a gambling house owner, amusingly exasperated by his friend’s slippery ways. The show is exuberantly staged and every present or former owner of a mail-order fool-your-friends makeup kit ought to enjoy it.