The debut of "Lanigan's Rabbi," a new entry in the "NBC Double Feature Sunday Mystery Movie," has been stuck in one of the most unenviable time slots in television history - opposite the conclusion of "Roots," at 9:30 Sunday on Channel 4.
It doesn't deserve such a fate. "Lanigan's Rabbi" is one of the least violent and most ingratiating new cop shows in a long time.
The premise is slightly ludicrous, Art Carney plays the chief of police in a coastal city of about 100,000 people, Bruce Solomon plays the friendly neighborhood rabbi who in his spare time helps Carney fight crime. Fortunately, Carney was not given a brogue, and Solomon does not speak Brooklynese.
Rabbis - and maybe chiefs of police - will chortle, but that's okay. The program is "a mystery-comedy," says NBC. It's a whodunit, not a thriller. Directing a Purim play at his synagogue, the rabbi tells his young actors that the play is "a good detective story, without cars chases or violence. So you've got to make the audience care about the characters."
This is obviously producer Leonard Stern's intent with "Lanigan's Rabbi." Stern helped write "Get Smart" and created "McMillan" and "Holmes" and "Yoyo." Like those shows, his new police fantasy is light-hearted, rather that bone-crunching, in its escapism.
Solomon has replaced the pilot show's Stuart Margolin as the rabbi - no doubt because of his performance as the remarkably persuasive cad named Sgt. Foley on "Mary Hartmen, Mary Hartman." Here he's no longer a cad, and he's got quite as compelling because of it. But his likeble side remais very likable. He and Carney and their wives (played by Janis Paige and Janet Margolin) are characters are could indeed learn to care about, without benefit of car chases.