CBS (Fridays, 8 P.M. ET)
Throughout TV land, high concept all of a sudden means low overhead. In the new cost-cutting climate, everyone is looking for found comedy (America's Funniest Home Videos) or found drama (Cops).
This summer a new variety of point-and-shoot reality programming is showing up: actual criminal trials. NBC has TrialWatch; Court TV, a new cable channel devoted exclusively to trial coverage, launches next week; CBS is airing this limited-run series. The reasons for this proliferation are obvious. Jurisprudent docudrama is cheap (no scripts, no actors) and, in this land of the litigious, certainly plentiful. (Cameras are currently permitted in courtrooms in 45 states.)
This show combines trial footage with interviews conducted by Rita Braver, Meredith Vieira and correspondents from 48 Hours, including Bernard Goldberg, Erin Moriarity and Richard Schlesinger. Viewers enjoy a privileged vantage point. Even when the judge clears the court to lecture counsel, the camera stays. And because the show, at least in the first few of its eight installments, fixes on murder trials, the drama is heightened.
Still, as with 48 Hours, chop-chop editing means tone and pace are rarely sustained. What Verdict really needs is an anchor. How about Rusty, the bailiff from People's Court?
Comedy Central (Sat., June 22, 9 P.M. ET)
Priming the release of the theatrical movie le The Naked Gun 2½, the cable channel presents this block of six episodes of the riotous—and quickly canceled—1982 sitcom that introduced Leslie Nielsen as ludicrous detective Lt. Frank Drebin and was spun off into the Naked Gun films.
From the initial episode it's apparent this show is taking the most twisted path since Get Smart: "There had been a recent wave of gorgeous fashion models found naked and unconscious in laundromats on the West Side," says Nielsen in a voice-over. "Unfortunately I was assigned to investigate holdups of neighborhood credit unions. I was across town doing my laundry when the call came in about the double killings."
An absurd satire from the creators of Airplane!, Police Squad! pummeled viewers with outrageous sight gags, relentless puns and silly non sequiturs. ("We think we know how he did it." "Oh, Howie couldn't have done it. He hasn't been in in weeks.") Each episode featured a special guest, such as Florence Henderson or Lorne Greene, who got bumped off and was forgotten before the opening credits stopped rolling.
Those without cable can see Police Squad! next month, when CBS airs it in tandem with Morton & Hayes, Rob Reiner's summer series.
Showtime (Sat., June 22, 9 P.M. ET)
Keith Carradine, currently the toast of Broadway in The Will Rogers Follies, reverts to crouton status in this cheesy action film that suffers from multiple-personality disorder. He plays an ex-cop who sets out to destroy a powerful San Francisco mobster (John Saxon) in belated retribution for the murder of his parents.
It's a standard, if disjointed, action plot with substandard dialogue ("Wanna see my pet snake?" passes for sparkling repartee). At least it starts out in that vein. By the conclusion—a tedious sting operation at a Tahoe casino that takes forever to transpire—the film has completely reversed field, going from grim revenge saga to light comedy. A talented supporting cast—Robert Harper, Kim Greist and Hairy Dean Stanton—is completely wasted.
Fox (Sun., June 23, 7 P.M. ET)
Fox is airing this award-winning documentary, originally shown on the Financial News Network, without commercials. The film, directed by ex-NBC newsie Robin Young, focuses on Dushan "Dude" Angius, president of the Rotary Club in affluent Los Altos, Calif. Angius discovers that his son, visiting from New York, has AIDS.
Angius tries to get his fellow Rotarians involved with educating the public about the disease. Most of these community leaders assume that AIDS is something that happens to other people, until some startling events radically change their perceptions.
The film's stodgy reliance on talking heads makes for visually dull television. But watching a family and a community overcome prejudice and ignorance to do some selfless work makes for a great story.
Lifetime (Tues., June 25, 9 P.M. ET)
Marg (China Beach) Helgenberger plays a woman hurt in a car accident that leaves her clinically dead for six minutes before she is revived. She begins having visions of her recently deceased young daughter, who is apparently sending clues about her suspicious demise. It leads to a kind of trial you won't likely see on I Verdict anytime soon.
This spirit fest, directed by Martin Donovan, wouldn't work at all if it weren't for Helgenberger. She handles the part, which requires her to go every few minutes from swooning to screaming, with radiant confidence.
As her husband, Christopher Reeve holds up his end of the bargain. But all the movie's hard-earned credibility goes out the window whenever Fionnula Flanagan is onscreen. For the part of a psychic psychiatrist, she seems to have borrowed her Transylvanian accent from Cloris Leachman in Young Frankenstein.
>A SOAP FIT FOR A QUEEN
EVER WONDER WHAT THE QUEEN IS DOING TONIGHT OVER IN JOLLY OLD ENGLAND? Probably watching Neighbours. The Queen Mum is so enamored of this Australian soap opera that a few years ago she flew the cast to London for a command performance. The half-hour serial about three households on a suburban cul-de-sac, a smash in its own country as well as in England, is also reportedly a favorite of Princess Di's. Recently stations in Los Angeles and New York City began showing the soap. If it does well, you can expect to see it in your vicinity too.
The show stars Alan Dale and Barbara Billingsley—look-alike Anne Haddy; it also helped launch the careers of singers Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan. With its blend of middle-class turmoil, humor and romance played out by a handsome, youth-freighted cast, Neighbours most closely resembles a downscale version of our own Santa Barbara. While American soaps are popular the world over, imported sudsers—EastEnders, for instance—haven't caught on here. The casual charm of this Aussie entry, though, is habit-forming. Two out of three monarchs agree.
You don't have to step outside into that muggy weather to know what season it is. All you have to do is turn on the TV any afternoon and watch the parade of half-naked nubiles and pec-monkeys as the soaps go through their summer ritual of rejuvenation. It's a time-honored tradition: Each year, in an attempt to hook all those vacationing students lolling around the house, the daytime serials move the youngest part of the cast onto front-burner stories. That means the skin quotient goes way up, while the acting-quality index dips. Ah, summer, when all the soaps are young and restless.