Picks and Pans Review: A Knob-Twister's Guide to Syndicated Tv

updated 07/21/1980 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/21/1980 01:00AM

It's summertime, and the viewing is wheezy. This is the season when the networks unload failed pilots and the least grabbing of their old movies among all the other reruns. So it's a good time to check out syndicated TV shows—those produced by independent companies for sale direct to local stations. Many, of course, are worse than the reruns. It would be hard to find a more sexist or offensive show than the British import The Benny Hill Show. Some viewers will find the syndicated religious talk shows a bit smugly pious, and who needs WCT Tennis on tape? The Gong Show shrieks for itself. But there are also some worthwhile and amusing programs in syndication, and this is an admittedly idiosyncratic selection of PEOPLE Editors' favorites:

CANDID CAMERA—It's still frequently sadistic, and Allen Funt and his co-hosts might try to be a little less gleeful. But the cinema all-too-vérité of average Americans confronting the unknown, often with much more good humor than Funt would have any right to expect, remains irresistible.

DANCE FEVER—Among the disco shows, this is the most garish, exhibitionistic and lewd, which is to say it is perfectly apt. Emcee Deney Terrio wears cute little outfits and a cute little smile, and the guest judges, usually fourth or fifth bananas from network TV sitcoms, struggle not to look embarrassed.

DAVID SUSSKIND—His topics run a little to the seamy—male strippers and kept men are two examples—but Susskind has the self-restraint to let his guest panelists talk. He asks tough but not contentious questions, and his format allows at least some depth of inquiry, since stand-up comedians, rock singers and self-help authors aren't moving in every 10 minutes. His 1970 "How to Be a Jewish Son" panel, with Mel Brooks, David Steinberg and George Segal, is one of TV's all-time hoots.

DONNA FARGO—There are currently a dozen or so syndicated country music shows, and Fargo's is among the least overproduced. Dolly Parton's (now only in reruns) is easily the most embellished, though when the producers allow her just to sing, she can make up for anything.

GOOD NEWS—This program, featuring born-again Christians, may seem relentlessly optimistic, yet the guests who detail the revelations that turned them to Christianity often display a refreshing innocence and sincerity, qualities not to be scoffed at on TV or anywhere else.

LAWRENCE WELK—So what if it's not timeless music. So what if Myron Floren and Bobby Burgess haven't stopped smiling for 17 years. So what if we all miss the Lennon Sisters. The success of this program in syndication is a rare triumph for the often powerless viewers. They saved it after ABC canceled the series in 1971 on the grounds that its demographics were too rural and elderly. Welk, always a better businessman than musician, sold it himself. Dankeschön, maestro.

MUPPETS—This is the most widely watched TV show in the world (235 million in 107 countries), and one measure of its popularity in the U.S. is that the CBS station in New York just paid $7.2 million for seven years of rerun rights. Alas, that's all there will be come 1981—the Hensons will stop producing new segments after this season, and the Muppets will get back together only for feature films. Of course there is a five-year collection of consistent, endearing and gentle classics.

NAME THAT TUNE—Having dropped its heinous gimmick of locking contestants in a glass booth and having them grab at swirling paper money, this is now among the more civilized game shows. As hosts go in the genre, Tom Kennedy is special—he is only mildly grating.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC—Perhaps the most imaginative of the nature documentary series—and the best-photographed—this spinoff of the magazine also has narrators without the aurally irritating qualities of Jacques Cousteau or Marlin Perkins, who at times make one wish they would be devoured by the beasts they're stalking.

PM MAGAZINE—This is one of the few informative, nonescapist shows in syndication. The producers splice local anchormen and features together with national material supplied by the packager, Westinghouse Broadcasting.

ROCK CONCERT—Producer-host Don Kirshner always seems to be a 45-rpm person living in a 33 1/3-rpm world, but his show presents most of the best performers in pop music and comedy, with a minimum of sappy patter.

SCTV (formerly SECOND CITY TV)—Inspired by the famed Chicago satirical troupe, this half-hour show follows Saturday Night Live in many cities and sometimes tops it. Written and acted by a cast strongly influenced by the National Lampoon, it nevertheless has few lapses in taste. Andrea Martin's Indira Gandhi, Joe Flaherty's Alistair Cooke and his and Dave Thomas' Bing Crosby and Bob Hope Road send-ups alone are worth tuning in for.

SHA NA NA—What Welk is to dance-band-era fans, Bowzer is to the greaser set. Even some of the oldies-but-tiredees who come back to sing their ancient hits catch a few sparks from the boys and turn nostalgia into music again.

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