"Maude": Beatrice Arthur, elegantly put together in a burnt-orange silk tunic and pants outfit, sweeps across the living room of her posh suburban New York home in response to the tastefully modulated chimes of the doorbell.
"Charlie's Angels": Farrah Fawcett Majors, when an Angel in repose, suits up in tight-fitting pants and T-shirt tops, brightly colored and coordinated in the California style; meant to create wistful envy in women, that certain yearning in men.
"The Edge of Night": Anxiety-ridden Nacy Karr confronts upper-income attorney-husband, Mike, sporting her scarlet-wool, princess-line wraparound coat with gray fox collar.
The TV hard-sell is obvious - Pearl Bailey selling chickens and a ride on the old Greyhound. Ever so divine Catherine Deneuve selling cars. But the soft sell? It's there, too. This is TV's more subtle, subliminal message to America, nothing so overt as a slick commercial, but no less alluring for all its studied discretion.
And there's no doubt that people are affected by it. Cops grumble that they are expected to solve crimes in an hour, like Kojak. Little girls want to grow up and become the "Bionic Woman," not a mommy. And bigger girls are bleaching and fluffing themselves into copies of Fawcett-Majors.
"It's frightening," says a costume designer for Norman Lear productions, "just how much taste-making TV does."
Farrah Fawcett-Majors is a striking, wild-haired blonde.Tough as nails, yet warmly feminine. Partial to revealing T-shirts and tight pants. On the cover of Bazaar, Vogue and assorted movie mags, women's magazines and tabloids.
But it isn't Farrah Fawcett-Majors we're being shown.
It's Jill, Young-Career-Girl-on-the-Rise. Risk-taking. Chic- but not rich. She "works" in an office dreams are made of when she isn't out in the field on a high-priced (one recent fee, for example, was $500,000), glamorous case.
"We're trying to project the kind of girl who has innate taste," says Barry Stern, production manager for the show. "She's resourceful and smart. She may not have a lot of money - they're always asking Charlie for raises - but she lives well and has a great apartment because she's the kind of fun person who makes the most cut of what she has. She'd be likely to spend part of her weekend scouring the countryside for antiques, then play a hard game of tennis, and end up cooking a gourmet health food dinner for her man of the hour.
"To dress the girls for a particular episode," continues Stern, "we got to a store and pick out about 30 different outfits for a nine-change situations. The girls then pick from those, and what they end up wearing is basically what they would wear off the show in their private lives. We try to keep their look 'up' and modern.
"The show is all about glamour," says Stern. "We're obviously bigger than life."
And people are buying, Jean Novel of Georgetown's Bogart hair salon tells of women specifically requesting the "Farrah look." Says Novel: "When they see a beautiful celebrity, they identify with her. And it isn't just Farrah. I've had requests to do hair like that of Suzzane Pleshette on the 'Bob Newhart Show' - and many others."
On the set of "The Edge of Night," the melodrama-soap, Yale-trained costume designer Doreen Ackerman sits in a narrow rectangular room surrounded by racks of clothes suspended from the ceiling. One wall is a pegboard dripping the jewelry of the season.
She, too is one of the skillful purveyors of the fantasy upper-middle class lifestyles, which is an important element of all soap operas.
"I dress the characters in such a way as to induce the audience to identify closely with them in an emotional way, in a sense, adding another dimension to the bare plot. I analyze the scripts and work on evoking a mood. In a somber scene, I use darker colors; in an upbeat scene, lights. Sometimes I go against what's being played and create color dissonance.
"All of our characters are definitely upper-middle class; some, upper-upper. They are only lower, and dressed as such, when there is a specific call for it in the script - such as a sleazy villainess we once had who sold her baby."
Ackerman says there is a specific reason for placing a soap opera in an affluent setting. "The actors and actresses on soaps today are revered muck like the movie idols of the '40s. Our characters are role models in real life for literally millions of people. Witness our mail. They want to be Nancy Karr, live like her, react emotionally like her, dress like her - even color their hair like hers."
Leslie Cornell, assistant to the producer, adds that the strong identification between viewer and character is capitalized on: "That's particularly why fashion people are eager to donate clothes for credit alone. People see it on the show and buy it. It must be worth it to the manufacturers in the first place or they wouldn't do it."
Today's TV characters are so vividly drawn, so much more convincing than in the old "Father Knows Best" days, it's hardly surprising if either soap or sitcom life styles strike some as authentically valid role models. And no one has succeeded better at giving a weight and depth of reality to sitcom characters than Norman Lear.
Rita Riggs, costume designer for "Maude," "All in the Family," "The Jeffersons," "Good Times" and "All's Fair" has headed Lear's design and manufacturing complex for several years. The company employs about 30 people who execute her design ideas and she rarely, if ever, uses stores or wholesale houses for her costumes.
"What I try to do," she says, "is to help the writer tell the story visually and through symbolism. Each culture within our culture has different sets of symbols which evolved from different originals frames of reference - it's the concept of America as a melting pot. And our culture has been and is very fundamentally defined by upward mobility and money as positive values.
"Take Maude. She a product of the '40s and '50s - its education and culture. SHe is the forerunner of the restless well-educated woman of today who is younger than she, like her daughter. She's affluent - from, and exists in an upper-middle class environment. Her house as well as her clothes reflects this.
"Her furnishings are eclectic. She has a few good Duncan Phyfe pieces - traditional, but mixed with some contemporary stuff, all collected over the period of her four marriages. In the '50s she discovered modern art and began collecting original oils. She understands just enough about different cultures and their crafts, to have some rugs and pottery reflective of current trends."
Louise Jefferson of "The Jeffersons" is a different case.
"Her Transition is from the lower-middle class world of Archie Bunker," says Riggs, "through Blomingdale's, into [WORD ILLEGIBLE] , and finally to the Park and Madison Avenue boutiques - all at breakneck speed. Everything about the Jeffersons' apartment is brand new and slightly garish.
"The character of Louise Jefferson maintains a force and dignity, but the tone the surroundings convey is gaucherie, overdoneness, echoing George's idea of 'rich.' It's a lifestyle of the nouveau riche, of people who have very suddenly come into money and don't know how to handle it."
"All in the Family," meanwhile, demonstrates yet another kind of transition. Gloria and Michael have moved out of the Bunkers' into their own house, the set of which is an exact mirror image.
"The contrasts really show," observes Riggs. "Now that Michael is making more money as an associate professor and they have a child, they're dressing and living like young parents, not like the young radicals of former days.
"Their tastes are begining to develop - they're shedding their working-class origins and moving into the middle class. Gloria's been exposed to culture - she's been to museums - so she's decorating the house with museum posters. Cheap, but chic. The message is one of gearing toward upward mobility."
Bina Bernard, director of audience response for the Lear outfit, talks of the mail they get in response to their shows.
"Because they're controversial, we get a lot of mail about the content. But, what's amazing is that at least 25 per cent of our mail is requests about where to purchase items people have seen on the shows.
"On 'Maude' women write in asking where 'she' gets her clothes, saying they have the same problem figure. 'Mary Hartmen' generates mail asking where they can purchase the wallpaper, all the kitchen things, the bedroom furniture - even the sheets. And on 'The Jefferson' people want to know where they can buy a seascape that hangs on the set, the wallpaper and the living room furniture.
Another variation is that many people write in and want to get a copy of the quotation from Gibran's 'The Prophet' used in Gloria and Mike's New Year's Eve wedding - saying they want to use it in their own weddings.
"And when Maude thad her face lift, we got thousandsof requests for the name of her doctor.