Preview

Television

Tired of the same old pap? Then watch folks die, live and in color

MARTIN KNELMAN January 10 1977
Preview

Television

Tired of the same old pap? Then watch folks die, live and in color

MARTIN KNELMAN January 10 1977

Television

Preview

Tired of the same old pap? Then watch folks die, live and in color

In Network, a current movie satirizing the ratings madness of TV, the nightly news is turned into a circus starring two crowd-pleasing nuts known as the Mad Prophet of the Airwaves and Sybil the Soothsayer, and SLA-style terrorists are hired to pull off bank heists and kidnappings on a regular weekly basis to provide material for an exciting new action show. So faj no such shows have been announced by the major U.S. networks, but the actuality doesn’t lag far behind the farcical exaggeration. Already this season, we’ve witnessed the spectacle of news broadcasters being turned into million-dollar-a-year superstars, we’ve been asked to suspend disbelief in Elizabeth Taylor playing the hysterical Jewish mama of a hostage in Victory At Entebbe, and we’ve been invited to chuckle over the wedding of a geriatric character on Phyllis when we knew perfectly well that the actress in the white gown (Judith Lowry) had collapsed and died soon after the show was taped.

Can 1977 top that? Well, CBS promises to start the year off with a bang on a special called Evel Knievel’s Death Defiers on January 31. The show will be telecast live (barring catastrophe, one might add), and will feature a supporting cast of daredevils from various locations across the United States all performing death-defying stunts. We are cheerfully informed by a CBS press release that Knievel will climax the event by attempting to jump over the world’s largest indoor salt-water pool (built in the Chicago Amphitheatre), stocked for this occasion with man-eating killer sharks. And that’s just for openers. Here are some of the other stunts you can look forward to following on your TV screen in 1977:

The parable of General Motors and Jesus: The Life Of Jesus was to have been the spectacle of spectacles. Two years in the making, directed by the extravagantly romantic Italian Franco Zeffirelli with a $ 10-million budget and a cast featuring Orson Welles, Laurence Olivier, Anne Bancroft, James Mason and Peter O’Toole, it was set to be shown on six Sunday nights ending on Easter Sunday. One of the most breathtaking aspects was the financial deal—a key element of which was General Motors, which was to sponsor the show on U.S. television without commercial interruptions. Now suddenly GM has pulled out of the deal. A terse statement from GM explains that the decision is based on a reassessment of GM’S advertising needs for 1977 and in no way reflects on the company’s respect for Zeffirelli’s work. But obviously someone high up at GM saw

some of the footage and was scared off. At the moment the big passion play of the season is being acted out in the board rooms at NBC, where the hysterical search for a new sponsor goes on. Whether The Life Of Jesus will make it to the air this Easter is now a matter of great doubt.

Are the not ■ ready -for-prime -time players finally ready? Lome Michaels, the young Canadian producer who has made a sensational impact with hitherto underground humor on NBC’S Saturday Night, has stayed in his late-night slot and resisted temptations to move into prime time for the very good reason that he would almost certainly be under pressure to make the show less controversial. But TV executives are sneaking Saturday Night's sensibility into prime time with two specials featuring hip, outrageous comedy. One of those specials stars Chevy Chase, who left Saturday Night in October; the other features another young rough-edged comic, Richard Pryor. The idea is to see whether the mass audience is ready—and if the response is good, that will be reflected in the fall schedule.

How do you say that in Québéçois?

Michel Tremblay, the talented playwright whose characters hover around the Montreal Main chattering in jouai, has had his work performed all over Canada, but in Quebec he has always refused to allow his plays to be done in English because he believes the language of Quebec must be French. But now he has changed his mind and made a deal with the drama department of the CBC which will put Les Belles

Soeurs on the air next fall, in English, under the direction of André Brassard, who has staged the original French productions of most of Tremblay’s plays in Montreal. The reason for the change? The French network of the CBC didn’t want to work with Brassard (preferring its staff directors) and wasn’t enthusiastic about jouai, either. So Tremblay is teaching RadioCanada a lesson by bringing his play to English-language television instead. Is there a French expression meaning “politics makes strange bedfellows?” Temporary interference: In its neverceasing effort to give the audience authentically Canadian heroic models, the CBC will present Kate Reid as Nellie McClung, Donald Sutherlanu as Norman Bethune, and someone or other (to be announced) as Louis Riel. But the most stirringly dramatic showdown may take place off the air as the Saskatchewan government challenges federal Communications Minister Jeanne Sauvé’s master plan of creating a national pay-TV network. The Canadian Radio-Television Commission will be holding hearings while Mme Sauvé travels across the country soothing ruffled feathers and wondering why everyone is so upset. But Saskatchewan’s Communications Minister Ned Shillington says bluntly: “Pay-TV is legally a provincial responsibility, and we’re not going to give the federal government a blank cheque to develop it. We have plans of our own.”

The Mad Prophet predicts that no matter what happens, 1977 on the tube won’t be boring. MARTIN KNELMAN