The star with the bigger beef is Angela Lansbury. After 11 years, her sturdy Sabbath war horse, Murder, She Wrote, has been bumped to Thursday nights. (Good luck, going up against the NBC juggernaut, Angela.) She was a victim of CBS's youth movement. The network has broken up its winning Sunday night tandem of 60 Minutes and Murder, She Wrote in order to send a message to advertisers that it was aggressively going after the universally coveted young adult demographic. (Two sitcoms, Cybill and Almost Perfect, will assume the time period.) And what clearer message can you send than serving up the silvery head of Angela Lansbury on a sacrificial platter? In an interview shortly after the changes were announced, the 69-year-old actress described herself as "angry," "heartbroken" and "shattered." Two years ago, CBS was obsequiously wooing Lansbury to continue making Murder, She Wrote. Now she doesn't fit into their plans. How quickly the winds shift in prime time.
Just ask Paul Reiser. Last year, his sitcom Mad About You was snugly wedged into NBC's monster Thursday-night lineup. Then hours before the new season schedule was announced in May, he found out he was being banished to what has traditionally been one of that network's weakest neighborhoods: Sunday. NBC's Warren Little-field explains the network strategy. "We saw an opportunity to create a beachhead on Sunday in the same way we did with Frasier last year on Tuesday," says the network's entertainment czar (and chief metaphor mixer). "The clear magnet into this night is Mad About You." Despite that vote of confidence, Reiser was so angry, he pointedly skipped the fall presentation ceremony at which he was to introduce Littlefield. ER's George Clooney
, whose show remains solidly riveted at 10 p.m. on Thursdays, was flown in as a last-second replacement.
USA (Wed., July 12, 9 p.m. ET)
A lounge singer (Kate Vernon) who also happens to be a psychopath murders a woman and then assumes her identity. It's all part of her dastardly plan to exact revenge on a wealthy Southern family. She makes herself indispensable to the wheezy, wheelchair-bound patriarch (Kevin McCarthy) and his psychologist daughter (Shanna Reed). Vernon is already having an affair with Reed's devious husband (Craig Wasson). Soon the bodies are dropping like three-day-old fruit flies.
Though the movie is short on chills, the superior cast makes this a better-than-average thriller.
Showtime (Sun., July 16, 8 p.m. ET)
Rodeo cowboys are a notoriously tough breed. The broncobusters and bull riders on the no-frills prison circuit have to be even tougher. (Prisoners compete against each other in contests open to the public.) Jon Voight, who 26 years ago played the Midnight Cowboy, is the title character, a champion rider with the engraved belt buckles to prove it. But he killed a man, and now he's a lifer at a Montana prison with a working ranch attached. Kyle Chandler (Homefront) plays a hotheaded new prisoner whom Voight runs through an arduous apprenticeship.
Voight is terrific as a man who has distilled life to the essentials in order to survive with dignity.
HBO (Mon., July 17, 10 p.m. ET)
In a striking British miniseries, Ruth Gemmell plays a young mother in the Northern England city of Bradford who boots out her laborer husband after he hits her once too often. She turns desperately to prostitution to pay off debts. The film presents a frank, decidedly deglamorized depiction of the life, showing the revulsion the women feel for their Johns, the cynical superficiality of their allure and the manifold dangers of their lives.
Just as a sociological study, this would be memorable. But as the five-parter (airing over successive weeks) proceeds, the drama shifts into a murder mystery and then (less successfully) into the story of an unlikely business venture. The focus moves to two veteran hookers (Cathy Tyson and Geraldine James) and their efforts to escape their tawdry occupation.
Wonderfully acted, unsettlingly realistic (and a good deal too long), the miniseries combines pathos, humor and suspense.
>TUBE: Angela Lansbury and Paul Reiser play musical chairs; Kate Vernon is evil in The Sister-in-Law; love—and life—are cheap in Band of Gold
SCREEN: Sylvester Stallone does a comic turn in Judge Dredd; Power Rangers will thrill pint-size fans; 2 Girls in Love is a gentle, romantic comedy 17
SONG: The Police bring back the good old days; Jody Watley shows some Affection; Van Morrison has one of those Days 20
PAGES: Actor-comedian Martin Mull draws out his inner self; Spenser gets sappy in Thin Air; Joy Fielding's Don't Cry Now is a brisk summer read 27
>KOOKY CABLE COMEDIES SHOWTIME GETS DEMENTED WITH three late-night summer comedy series. First up is Howie Mandel's Sunny Skies (Fridays, 11:30 p.m. ET), a sketch-and-spoof jumble from the antic, often offensive comic. If you don't like a skit, stick around. Mandel keeps the jokes coming. Midnight brings Full Frontal Comedy, a drearily risqué stand-up show hosted by Dom Irrera. Rim shots galore. The last entry is Twisted Puppet Theater (Sundays, 11 p.m. ET). The title says it all: marionettes with a sicko attitude (but few laughs). We're not in Muppetville anymore, Toto.
BASEBALL PLAYERS ARE USED TO abrupt trades. But network stars with loyal audiences usually merit gentler treatment. Not this year. When the fall schedules were announced this spring, one TV icon had been moved from her accustomed Sunday slot while another Nielsen heavyweight was being transplanted to the very same time period. Both actors were furious.