Driven to the (Great) Wall, TV Bets Millions on Wouk's Winds, Peck and a Parton Sis

updated 12/28/1981 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/28/1981 01:00AM

•The year ahead in TV, books, film and sports

•Coping with computers, or Hello Mr. Chips

•Reagan's D.C. is all flash and all cash

•Celebs who played—or cheered—the game

Author Herman Wouk, 66, appears as a Catholic archbishop in a scene from The Winds of War, ABC's sprawling 16-hour dramatization of his 1971 best-selling World War II novel. His walk-on lark quickly became an albatross, however, when Wouk, a rabbi's grandson, drew flak from friends for donning the robes. Robert Mitchum and AM MacGraw, co-stars in the $33 million mini-series (ABC's costliest ever), had other problems. "We were in Czechoslovakia in the morning and Poland in the afternoon," reports Ali of the 12-month filming. "The energy level bordered on the insane, but I've never had a bigger adrenaline rush working."

ABC's 9 to 5 is probably the only upcoming series whose title matches the odds that it will succeed. Based on the $58 million-grossing movie that teamed Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin, the secretarial sitcom boasts Fonda as an executive producer and (from left) Valerie Curtin (a veteran screenwriter and Jane Curtin's cousin), Rachel Dennison (Dolly's little sister) and Rita Moreno. "I'm sure people will compare me to Dolly—it's natural," allows Dennison, 22, a neophyte actress who, for the record, could fill more than her sister's shoes. She appreciates her break. "If I can be myself," she vows, "then I can do it."

Thirteenth-century Venetian wanderer Marco Polo journeyed four years to reach the fabled court of China's Kublai Khan. NBC has taken nearly that long to produce Marco Polo, the eight-hour epic that it hopes will be this year's Shogun. TV newcomer Ken Marshall (left) heads a blue-chip cast that includes Anne Bancroft, Burt Lancaster, Sir John Gielgud, Leonard Nimoy and Ying Ruocheng (right), who is known in Peking as the Chinese John Wayne. The Mongol hordes, however, weren't always cooperative. "Dealing with Chinese immobility," says Nimoy of the location shoot, "was like trying to push over the Great Wall."

The year's most chilling TV movie may be NBC's The Executioner's Song, based on Norman Mailer's best-seller about Utah killer Gary Gilmore. The two-parter stars Tommy Lee Jones (left, with a victim played by Bruce Newbold); Rosanna Arquette as his troubled girlfriend, Nicole Barrett; and many of the real-life people who dealt with Gilmore on his road to execution by firing squad in 1977. "Tommy Lee is just oooh-ooh-ooh!" gushes Arquette, who recently appeared with Timothy Hutton in ABC's A Long Way Home. "He got Into his part so well, we brought out the worst In each other—just like Gary and Nicole."

"I accepted the part simply because Abraham Lincoln is the greatest American, and my hero since I was a boy," says Gregory Peck of his TV debut as the Civil War President in CBS' $17 million, eight-hour miniseries, Bruce Catton's The Blue and the Gray. Stacy Keach and John Hammond stand out in a cast of 250 (not counting 5,000 extras), but no one, perhaps, was as absorbed as Peck. "In makeup he was eerie," says Keach. "It was as if the spirit of Lincoln filled him."

Jeremy (The French Lieutenant's Woman) Irons (right) joins Anthony (Danger UXB) Andrews in PBS' Brides-head Revisited, an 11-part adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's 1945 novel of aristocratic decay. Irons plays a melancholy Oxonian who falls in love with a champagne-sloshing, teddy-bear-toting classmate (played by Andrews) and with the idle-rich world he inhabits. But don't write off either British actor as a sissy. Both are married fathers expecting their American showbiz breakthroughs this year. Andrews jousts this February as CBS' Ivanhoe, while Irons tackles the movie lead in Harold Pinter's Betrayal.

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