CBS miniseries 'Ellis Island' is a parade of paper dolls
Sometimes, if a network gathers together a large enough flock of stereotypes, caricatures, and cliches in one program, it flies. For better or for worse, Ellis Island (CBS, Sunday, Nov. 11, 8-11 p.m.; Tuesday, 9-11 p.m.; Wednesday, 9-11 p.m.) does that. Well, it does drag its tail a bit now and then, but for the most part, it flies.
How can you not love a miniseries in which one character, especially a mother played by Claire Bloom, tells her promiscuous daughter: ''If it weren't for the war, I'd send you to Europe. As it stands, I'll send you to Cleveland.'' That line may start another war out Ohio way.
In ''Ellis Island,'' people described as ''deliciously bourgeois'' somehow manage to ''go on with this charade,'' even though ''my life is over, through, finie.'' There is not one unpredictable moment, not one unexpected line of dialogue in all of the seven-hour miniseries, based on a best-selling novel by Fred Mustard Stewart, who, with Christopher Newman, shares the writing credit (?) for the teleplay.
''Ellis Island'' has lots of stars in big parts, smaller parts, cameos. Sadly , Richard Burton makes his final brief appearance in this drama. He plays the role of a senator well, but his daughter, Kate Burton, plays the part of his daughter badly. Faye Dunaway plays the senator's wife with broad man-eating strokes. And there are too many others to list - fine actors like Milo O'Shea, Claire Bloom, Judi Bowker, Joan Greenwood, Melba Moore, Ben Vereen, and Stubby Kaye, all of whom are professional enough to make their paper-thin roles seem much heavier. Ann Jillian sings and dances just about as well as Alice Faye in any one of her old movies about the sidewalks of New York. Actually, the whole miniseries is like one of those old movies, stretched out to last three days.
The heroes are Peter Riegert and Greg Martyn, who arrive together in steerage and make their way up from the slums of the lower East Side to, well, the upper East Side. Riegert, in particular, seems to have the potential to become a major sex symbol, and the miniseries shows his bare chest often enough to make it probable.
''Ellis Island'' tries to be epic Americana and succeeds only in being epic Televisiana - a pop-culture, mass-audience miniseries that may amuse you for a few hours if you have nothing better to do.
For me, the only moving moments came at the very end, when, to the strains of ''America the Beautiful,'' the camera moves about a deserted Ellis Island, then ascends in a helicopter over upper New York Bay to reveal the Statue of Liberty, which has somehow managed to survive all of the melodrama. The president will be ...
CBS was first, at 8:01 p.m., Eastern standard time.
ABC was second, at 8:13.
NBC was third, at 8:31.
CNN did not name the winner until 11:07 p.m., after all the polls had closed. In a burst of cable hypocrisy, however, CNN managed to announce as news the other network predictions as they were made.
If, during most of this period on election night, you were simply looking for numbers - the actual count of voters who had voted for each candidate - well, forget it.
TV viewers had to be satisfied with the networks' predictions, based on their own ''exit polls,'' which in turn were based on questions the networks had asked of voters as they left the polling places.
Network ''exit polls'' have now taken the place of actual numbers in American network coverage of elections. Instead of reporting the contest between political candidates, the networks treat national elections as a contest among themselves.
I don't care who calls the winner first. I do not want to know what some experts at CBS are predicting based upon their own private polling. All I want to know is what the actual figures are at the moment I am tuned in for election results.
And pious reminders that my vote is still important, even as the network projection is telling me it doesn't really matter, only compound the grievance.
There are several ways this TV network problem on election nights can be solved, mainly:
1. By making no announcement of winners unless based on actual counted votes.
2. By doing no poll-taking except beyond a reasonable distance from the polling place.
3. By indicating that ''exit polls'' are unreliable. This could be caused by voters refusing to answer network poll-takers, or by giving the poll-takers incorrect information. This might convince the networks they should return to reporting election news rather than making it.
So take your choice.
Meantime, in case you haven't heard the absolute truth based upon real numbers: Ronald Reagan won.