The TV scene at midseason is as bleak as the January weather. None of the new entertainment product this year blazed a trail or rang many of the public's chimes. The great "quality programming" explosion of the 1991-92 season has faded with a whimper.
As this is written, "Homefront" (the nighttime soap with a brain and a late-1940s setting) has just been canceled by ABC to make way for the return from limbo of Andy Griffith's "Matlock." That, I guess, goes to show that old folks make better marketing than old folks make
"Brooklyn Bridge," CBS's kosher take on the wonder years, is history, though it will be remembered someday as the show in which Jewish TV characters finally let their ethnicity hang out. At this writing, "I'll Fly Away" (the Southern civil rights-era drama) still lingers in ratings purgatory, but it hangs by a thread (calls and letters to your local NBC affiliate are in order).
"Young Indiana Jones" has been and gone, twice. It's gone now, but is supposed to be back again in March. "L.A. Law" has turned so silly and soapy this year that I've stopped watching it entirely. It will, however, be worth checking back in on MacKenzie, Brackman and others toward spring, when a graceful swan song may be in the works. Even if the swan doesn't sing, the cancellation vultures may be circling.
All the prime-time action this year seems to be in made-for-TV murder movies. With recent quickies "based on the true stories" of an alleged female serial killer in Florida and the three (count |em, three!) different dramatizations of the so-called "Long Island Lolita" case, the instant-movie genre has taken an ugly turn from its dubious "woman-as-victim" hobbyhorse to an even lower tabloid obsession with "women who kill."
Fortunately we have the Clinton-Gore inauguration extravaganza to break the winter doldrums. Because the vast majority of America's best popular artists are Democrats, we're guaranteed the best set of inaugural TV specials since - well, since the Carter bash of 1977.
Public policy aside, the Reagan-Bush regime's endless recycling of Charlton Heston, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mike Love the dumb, bald Beach Boy) never made for great entertainment.
But the real competitive action and innovation in broadcast TV continues to be concentrated in the late-night period. In this space previously we've discussed the jockeying among Jay, Dave, Arsenio, Whoopi, Dennis, Chevy and (maybe?) Dana for a piece of the territory abdicated by Johnny Carson. Now even PBS is getting in the act with a distinctly low-key and long-attention-span take on the conversation format.
On Jan. 4, "The Charlie Rose Show" went national on PBS, live at 11 p.m. EST. The show features a rich-looking wooden round table, a set of boardroom chairs, a few glasses of water and two or three people talking - for an hour. No band, no sidekick, no pet tricks. It is so substantial that it's shocking. And it is not necessarily boring. Charlie Rose - the host, executive producer and one-man cast of this gabfest - is a Bill Moyers protege.
A North Carolinian, Rose started working with fellow Southerner "East Texas Bill" Moyers on various PBS projects in the late 1970s. Rose then bounced around the fringes of the commercial network news shows and hosted local talk shows in Chicago, Dallas and Washington before finally landing at a regular spot in the wee-wee hours on CBS's "Nightwatch" in 1984.
At "Nightwatch" he slowly but surely built a reputation as a uniquely gifted interviewer and all-around class act, which I suppose was deserved. I saw part of "Nightwatch" a few times. But the show was on at 2 a.m. on weeknights, so it is forever associated in my mind with nearly missed deadlines and …