The TV Teasees of 1977 continue Sunday when NBC begins a three-night telecast of the Harold Robbins novel "79 Park Avenue," the coyly smutty tale of a good little girl going bad and ending up in a ritzy brothel.
Perhaps in terms of setting and subject matter this represents a television first, but "79 Park Avenue," at 9 o'clok, Monday and Tuesday nights on Channel 4 proves a laughable tawdry throwback to movie eyebrow raisers of the '50s, though without any of their appealingly cheap panache. Television loves to raise the subject of sex and then avoid it like the plague.
Thus our Little Nell heroine, whom Robbins has inexplicably named Marja Fludjicki, indeed becomes a call girl (at the very end of the first chapter) but only after society has conspired in every conceivable way to force her into sin. Her mother gets tuberculosis, her stepfather rapes her, her boyfriend exploits her and she is gypped and left penniless by a pair of conniving burlesque budies.
Since the dear thing is played be former "Cinderella" Leslie Ann Warten, who looks about as naughty as Madge the Manicurist, the story never seems even accidentally convincing. But to make matters worse - or better, if one finds the awfulness of it funny enough - writer Richard DeRoy and director Paul Wendkos keep dropping her into cliche situations borrowed from other imitations of life.
"When I get married, I want it to be romantic, special," says sweet Marja to boyfriend Ross Savitch (Marc Singer). Later, schizophrenically both seductive and cold-footed at the beach, she purrs, "You like me, Ross?" and he says, "Are you kidding? You're really something special?" Still later, she stells the understandably impatient boyfriend, "I'll do anything that makes you happy - except THAT."
When her grizzled and plump stepfather sees her in a nightie, it's time for a rerun of Hope Lange's predicament in the film of "Peyton Place." The stepfather drools, "Why you no like me?" and she gasps, "Peter, go 'way!" He tries again later with an "I'm yer foddler, why so mad with me?" but by this time virginity has become a moot point.
Calculated titillations are apportioned out during each segment, usually as lead-ins for commercials, and the narrative is protracted with almost unbearable sluggishness and padding. The story is set in the "30s fo no apparent reason other than to remove it one step father from the realm of recognizable likelihood.
NBC may think it has a hot number here, but "79 Park Avenue" is more of a cold shower, occasionally rising to the mediocrity of lukewarm.
Poor Marja - the mere sight of whom brings dirty old men everywhere leaping from the closet in droves - is led ponderously and invitably to the cushioned clutches of Polly Bergam as the frizzy-haired madame, and at fade-out Sunday night Lesley says the line "Whatever you want - you're the boss" that we've already heard a hundred times in the network's ads for the show.