That image was one on which all the networks fixed eventually. But NBC was the decisively superior news operation in the hours immediately following the disaster. All the networks relied to an unprecedented degree on unedited news feeds from their L.A. affiliates. But KNBC consistently found the most telling, dramatic images.
The day's individual star, however, was Connie Chung, who shared the CBS afternoon shift with Harry Smith. When Chung was promoted to anchor last year, some critics opined that CBS would regret the decision the first time Chung had to extemporize while anchoring a breaking story. Yet during this baptism of fire, Chung was efficient and knowledgeable (she was familiar with the stricken region from her years at KCBS in Los Angeles).
By the evening news, Dan Rather, in a demonstration of hubris overcoming perspective, was urging viewers to slay with CBS for "the best coverage of the California earthquake." But by that time—and through all the routine, hastily assembled prime-time and late-night news specials—the networks were in standard mop-up/ summary mode, and there was nothing to recommend one over the other.
ABC (Wednesdays, 8:30 p.m. ET)
Jay Sherman is a plump, balding, divorced New Yorker. But this nebbish pursues a noble profession: critic. He's the host of TV's Corning Attractions, on which he dismissively rates movies on the "Sher-mometer." Oh, by the way, Sherman is a cartoon (voice by Jon Lovitz).
This animated series is slyly amusing when sticking it to showbiz, taking sarcastic swipes at everyone from Steven Seagal to Gene Shalit. At its best, it's still several strides behind the savage, protean wit of The Simpsons, and the humor sputters when the focus is personal—detailing Sherman's dating woes or his relationship with his son.
There is one moment I can't let pass. A network honcho is approached by a PEOPLE reporter who wheedles, "Mr. Phillips, you're fabulously wealthy. You're a world-class athlete. You were great in bed last night. How does that feel?" How ridiculous this vignette is. PEOPLE staffers are pros. We would never use such a hyperbolic phrase as "fabulously wealthy."
Syndicated (Check local listings)
Spun off from a middling sci-fi movie last spring, this project about a 23rd-century space station hasn't made many changes in its transition to a series. The visual aspects—special effects and alien-species makeup—are excellent. But the stories falter.
The comic relief—embodied in Peter Jurasik and Stephen Furst as Centauri, a fan-haired race with Balkan accents—is trite. Bui the scripts are feeblest when they ape the philosophical tenor of the current Star Trek franchises. Babble on, space dudes.
It doesn't help the show to have such a wooden presence al the helm. As Commander Sinclair, lead actor Michael O'Hare is like Lorne Greene under hypnosis. In fact, this colorful but cheesy satellite opera aspires to nothing greater than being a '90s Battiestar Galactica.
ABC (Mon., Jan. 31, 9 p.m. ET)
In this tawdry, fact-based film, Jennie Garth of Beverly Hills, 90210 plays Kellogg, who at age 16 moves in with an ill-tempered older guy (Gregory Harrison) she met in a bar. lies no Prince Charming, but anything's better than the trailer park near Harrisburg, Pa., from which her mom and stepfather are about to be evicted.
Over the next decade, Harrison grows angrier and more domineering, even after his child-bride bears him two sons. Eventually, Kellogg learns that her hubby has been molesting teenage girls. Kellogg piles a bunch of kids in her car, including the neighborhood delinquent (Alexis Arquette), and drives up to her husband's remote fishing camp, where Arquette pumps four bullets into the louse.
The movie is overly sympathetic to Kellogg, despite the fact that she's serving a sentence of 25 years to life for killing her husband, and the story is told with no imagination.
CBS (Tues., Feb. 1, 9 p.m. ET)
Another night, another channel, another movie about a woman who gets someone to murder her husband. Is this a great country or what? Jaclyn Smith plays Yaklich, who marries a cop and bodybuilder (Brad Johnson) in her hometown of Pueblo, Colo. The bloom is soon off the rose.
"I don't understand how he could be so violent all of a sudden," ponders Smith. Gee, a weight lifter, mood swings, liver problems...hmmm, tins is a puzzle. Smith's stepdaughter tells her that those pills Johnson has been throwing back like Pez are steroids.
When Johnson is shot, his wife is fingered as the crime's instigator and receives 40 years for conspiracy.
The Donna Yaklich Story is only just better than Lies of the Heart.
The most striking image from the California earthquake was of elemental opposites: water gushing from a broken main juxtaposed with a curtain of flames from a ruptured gas line.