Call it Busy Wednesday. CBS premi`eres four new series tomorrow night:
Stir Crazy (8-9 p.m.) is inspired by the 1980 movie of the same name . . . but this time without Richard Pryor. However, it does surprisingly well with a very funny man named Larry Riley and his sidekick Joseph Guzaldo. They are jailed for 132 years for a crime they did not commit and, of course, escape in order to clear themselves -- and maybe have some fun. The film is full of irreverent and outrageous humor. One funny sequence involves the tough police captain (played by Polly
Holliday) who tries to convince them how tough she is by insisting she hates Disneyland and Mary Lou Retton.
The show is full of car chases and scary escapes and all the action-film standbyes, but done tongue-in-cheek. ``Stir Crazy'' is mad, mad fun and deserves a place on the schedule. However, it could run into trouble since it is up against ``Highway to Heaven'' on NBC, which may have some special support going for it in high places.
Charlie & Company (9-9:30 p.m.) is, pure and simple, a ``Cosby Show'' ripoff. It stars Flip Wilson and Gladys Knight as a black Yuppie couple coping with two teen-agers and one younger son. The pilot I viewed has now been switched to a later date, but the series, I am told, is not being changed much. Typical comment by Dad, played (would you believe in character) by a subdued Flip Wilson: ``Twenty years ago, when I decided to have a family, I knew all the answers. But now all the questions have changed.'' It's just ``The Huxtables Move to Chicago.''
George Burns Comedy Week (9:30-10 p.m.) features Mr. B. fore and aft, introducing an original comedy each week. Premi`ere episode is a vaguely uncomfortable farce about a beautiful escapee from an asylum who has constantly changing delusions about who she is, assuming false identities based upon the environment she happens to be in. It borders on being funny -- and tasteless -- but just manages to avoid both. Leads in the first segment are played by Catherine O'Hara and Tim Matheson. We've MDNM had anthology drama before, and this season we will have anthology science fiction (``Amazing Stories'') as well as anthology mystery (``Hitchcock''), so why not anthology comedy? This show is a good reason why not.
The Equalizer (10-11 p.m.). This may be the season for mature actors and actresses. Here comes another mature lead: Edward Woodward as a former secret agent who decides his work is too violent and gives it up to spend more time with his son. Soon he decides to be a private investigator in order to satisfy his urge to balance the scales of justice. In the premi`ere episode, shot in New York City, there are three intertwined stories, `a la ``Hill Street,'' but too few interesting characters to make it all
stick together like that show. ``Equalizer'' is too complex and not quite fast-moving enough. And our hero makes too free use of weapons and lawbreaking himself. The show is being redesigned to look more like ``Miami Vice,'' I hear. But what show isn't planning that?
If all that isn't enough, at the same time ABC and PBS are turning over their prime time to specials.
ABC's monumental 45/85, a study of America since World War II, is anchored by Peter Jennings and Ted Koppel. It features all four living US Presidents, as well as just about everybody in the world involved in American foreign policy. The discussion will focus, according to executive producer Av Westin, on America's future, the future of world relations, and the Gorbachev summit among other things.
One of the most unusual aspects of the program is the use of witnesses -- ranging from Life magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstadt to businessman Freddie Laker, from former Secretary of State Dean Rusk to folk singer Mary Travers, from Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi to former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick.
Westin explains: ``The witnesses were in the rooms when history was being made. . . . Our witnesses were also given the opportunity to tell us about other options on the table at the time of the decisionmaking, as well as the mistakes that were made then, too.''
Each segment of ``45/85'' begins with a time frame which is literally a three-dimensional construction in which objects from that particular time period are placed. The program itself is an example of a kind of instant historymaking. It places itself in the 45/85 time frame in such a unique way that all future retrospective news documentaries may look upon this one as the groundbreaker.
PBS devotes the entire prime-time evening to The Abortion Battle, a selection of programming which reflects both pro-choice and pro-life viewpoints. Included will be the controversial ``The Silent Scream,'' which depicts an abortion through the use of ultrasound visualization, as well as the pro-choice film, ``So Many Voices,'' narrated by Ed Asner and Tammy Grimes.
KQED/San Francisco, the producing station for ``The Abortion Battle'' regards the program as the first in a potential series of Theme Nights on controversial issues. According to executive producer Beverly Ornstein, ``This format is a cost-effective way to respond to our mandate to program boldly and explore extreme points of view while fulfilling our responsibilities as journalists to be balanced and fair. We think that this kind of format can have a great deal of impact, and we hope that ``The Abortio n Battle'' will pave the way for more Theme Nights on other controversial subjects.''
Of course, that will depend upon public reaction to this first Theme Night, and on local PBS station reaction. Many stations are either refusing to run the program at all or holding back until they can see the response in other areas, so better check your local listings if you plan to watch. No doubt about it, ``The Abortion Battle'' is a controversial program which many viewers may find objectionable in part. But almost all points of view are accommodated, and there are enough warnings on air of delica te material that those who wish to avoid the topic completely may do so.
Theme Nights may prove to be a landmark in programming which may one day make the Fairness Doctrine obsolete in public service broadcasting.