USA (Wed., Aug. 4, 9 p.m. ET)
The USA press release describes this sordid film as a "fictional account of the alleged romance" between movie star Marilyn Monroe (played by Melody Anderson) and then Attorney General Robert Kennedy (James F. Kelly). "Fictional" is a good word. But others spring to mind, such as fanciful, feverish and degrading.
No scandal is left unmongered. We see FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover (Richard Dysart) in bed with another man. Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa (Thomas Wagner) orders a hit on RFK, but mobster Sam Giancana (Raymond Serra) overrules him because, he says, the Mafia is working with the White House.
The overheated charade culminates on the night of Marilyn's death in 1962 in a scene right out of the Marx Brothers as various groups of men scramble furtively around Monroe's properly, hiding from one another, each trying to recover the movie star's tell-all diary.
This history-as-soap-opera has a certain lurid fascination. But in the process it trivializes and cheapens two famous, much-adored figures who can no longer defend themselves.
Showtime (Sun., Aug. 8, 9 p.m. ET)
The first chapter in this horror trilogy is an old-fashioned bit of harum-scarum about a woman (Alex Datcher) on her first night as the cashier at a desolate gas station as a killer prowls the countryside.
The second story is a Grand Guignol treatment about a man (Stacy Keach) with thinning hair who seeks help from a TV pilatory pitchman (David Warner). Both these segments are directed by John Carpenter (Halloween), who also serves as the show's host, playing a creepy formaldehyde-guzzling coroner at a well-stocked morgue. (Yes, this program's con lent, format, style and tone owe a debt to HBO's Tales from the Crypt.)
The final and least impressive segment concerns a baseball player (Mark Hamill) who undergoes an eye transplant after a car accident. It's directed by Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Other drive-in caliber movie directors, including Wes Craven, Sam Raimi and Roger Corman, have acting cameos sprinkled throughout the trilogy.
The entire exercise is far too gory for my tastes. But I guess in the horror racket, you can't make an omelette without eviscerating a few chickens.
At this point I've seen—at least in rough form—almost all the network shows that will premiere in the coming weeks. So it is that I can provide you with a preview of the new season's trends. Fox, for instance, will present its usual gaudy grab bag, a strange spectrum of series that takes in an ironic western (The Adventures of Br is co County, Jr.), a spooky paranormal drama (X-Files) and a crude insult sitcom (Daddy Dearest, with Don Rickles and Richard Lewis). NBC has fashioned vehicles to bring back a number of familiar TV faces: John Larroquette, Valerie Bertinelli, Larry Hagman, Kenny Rogers, Robert Wagner and Kelsey Grammer (who recently described his spun-off sitcom, Frasier, as the "methadone clinic" for those in severe Cheers withdrawal). ABC seems intent on reinstituting familiar formulas. Grace Linder Fire with stand-up comedian Brett Butler is a single-mom Roseanne (John Goodman even does a cameo in the pilot). Thea is a revamped What's Happening!! and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman...well, 'nuf said. (To ABC's credit, they also have the season's only groundbreaking series: the adult-themed NYPD Blue, running heavily to sex and violence, from producer Steven Bochco.) CBS has the most ingenious strategy. Call it Dave TV. This week the sitcom Big Wave Dave's debuts. CBS is also frenetically promoting the imminent advent of David Letterman's new show". It has another new sitcom too: Dave's World, coming in September. And on the hour comedy-drama Harts of the West, the lead character's wife refers to him repeatedly and caustically as "Buckaroo Dave." I really think CBS is on to something. After all if there's one thing prime time has always been lacking, it's more guys named Dave. Once the other networks see what a ratings bonanza CBS reaps with this tactic, TV will be wall-to-wall Daves.