You may have missed "The Mike Weinblatt Special." In fact, there is almost no way you could have seen it. It got a 0 rating and a 0 share. And yet a few hundred viewers at NBC stations throughout the country kept their peepers glued to it; for them, it was the show of the month, in a league beyond even "The Circus of the Stars."
Weinblatt, president of NBC Entertainment, was actually just a small part of it. The big part was a parade of clips designed to show off the nine new series NBC will introduce in January in the wake of a clean sweep that saw every new NBC program of the season canceled.
The poor old peacock screeched bloody murder, but even that success d'estime, "Lifeline," was put to death. In television, d'estime counts for nothing.
People who work in network television probably think D'Estime is a perfume sold by Catherine Deneuve.
Closed-circuit shows for affiliates are nothing new. From time to time the mighty network executives in New York visit their affiliated stations electronically, either to reassure them about their economic futures or to pacify unrest over an imagined calamity. While at ABC, Fred Silverman starred in a show that might have been called "'Soap' Really Isn't As Dirty As It Sounds," designed to offset negative publicity about a controversial series that ultimately proved less salacious than merely idiotic.
As NBC president, Silverman made a five-minute pep talk to the stations over the network lines last spring. But Silverman is not an electrifying TV performer - he makes Marlin Perkins look like Ben Vereen - and he did not appear on the Mike Weinblatt special.
It was, however, HIS show. Silverman himself is programming the network now-reading scripts, reviewing pilots of proposed shows-to such an extent that some programming execs trudge the halls as long-faced as lost souls.It would be crude but hardly inappropriate to suggest a sitcom called "Freddie's Flunkies," about a whacky TV network where the boss does everybody's job.
Silverman is committed to improving NBC's competitive position, and the Weinblatt special was designed to drum up enthusiasm for the earning power of the schedule Silverman engineered. A highly profitable primetime schedule means highly profitable "adjacencies"-locally sold time-for stations. I should also be noted that since 1972, 36 TV stations have elected to switch their affiliation to the No. 1 network, ABC-21 defecting from CBS and 15 from NBC. If Column A grows any longer, the balance of power could be significantly altered and the earth might shift on its axis.
So NBC TV president Robert Mulholland told his affiliates, "No network ever devoted as much time, attention and money to mid-season changes" as NBC has done this year. Mulholland also said-and not parenthetically, either, bub-that "I can assure you Fred Silverman was totally involved in every decision."
Then the fun started. To amuse the affiliates, the presentation was mounted as a special edition of "Saturday Night Live's" weekly "Update," segment, "brought to you," thundered announcer Don Pardo, "by NBC-the network with the logo you can read upside down."
"Saturday Night" regulars Jane Curtin and Bill Murray anchored the show. Joining them were Weinblatt and executive vice president Paul L. Klein whom Murray affectionately referred to as "a maniac" and "a knucklehead" while literally applying knuckles to his head. Since Silverman himself has endured Murray's noggie treatment, Klein just smiled.
As is usual in network television, all the new shows have the deafening ring of familiarity. Klein himself refereed to the comedy "Brothers and Sisters" as, "you should pardon the expression, a 'rip-off' of 'Animal House,'" the hit movie about a rowdy fraternity.In the clip shown, fraternity brothers squirted whipped cream on each other, spilled beer and dropped laundry.
Weinblatt noted early that the schedule, part of "an overall plan to attain broadcasting leadership," was marked by, "in general, a light touch throughout the schedule." That was putting it lightly.
In June, Silverman told the affiliates in convention that "we must present programs that refresh the medium with innovation in substance and style." Instead he had come up with tons of fun adapted from other people's hits.
But late yesterday, Silverman defended the new slate of shows and didn't seem worried about those who say he has failed to revolutionize television. "Some people expect Christ, and that's ridiculous," said Silverman from New York.
"The process will take place, but not in six months," he said. "I didn't approached this job expecting to turn everything around in six months. The mid-season schedule is only step No.1. It is not the definitive NBC schedule by any means. The second phase will come in the spring - next week we'll announce a half-dozen limited series to be tried out as early as January - and the fall will be the third.
"I wouldn't write off the things I said in that speech to the affiliates just yet."
Silverman mourned the killing of "Lifeline," a realistic docu-drama about doctors and patients, and said, "I guess people just didn't want to be reminded of misery every week."
So misery has been banished from the new schedule, "Cliffhanger" is a weekly trio of spoofy serials featuring a woman reporter, a cowpoke and a vampire, "Supertrain," about hijinks and intrigue aboard a "grand Hotel on wheels," sounds like a copy of "Love Boat" but isn't, Silverman says; "it has no resemblance to 'Love Boat.'"
Of "Urnabout," a comedy about a husband and wife who switch bodies (don't ask), Paul Klein delcared, "This is going to work. This has got a to work. This is going to work." And Silverman expects big things from "Mrs. Columbo," the comic-detective adventures of Lt. Columbo's heretofore unseen wife. Hopes of getting Brenda Vaccaro for the part fell through, but Silverman says series star Kate Mulgrew "it not just another Hollywood starlet. She's a real New York actress."
The new shows may sound jolly or even promising, but none of them sounds unprecedented.It would be unprecedented if any of them did.
"Hello, Larry," about a single father with two teen-age daughters, was obviously inspired by "One Day at a Time" (and, like that show, is produced by Tandem Productions). "Sweepstakes" sounds like "The Millionair." "B. J. and the Bear" sounds like "Smokey and the Bandit."
And "Litter Women" sounds like-well, like "Little Women."
Weinblatt boasted that "Supertrain" would be "a comedy thriller in the Hitchcock style" and he also said that part of the point of "Sweepstakes," about both winners and losers of fortunes, will be "finding out in a funny way that losing isn't so bad."
NBC has no intention of finding out in a funny way that losing isn't so bad. Muholland ended the funsywunsy Mike Weinblatt special with a post mortem of stone-faced sobriety. "We are deadly serious," he said. And nobody noogied him .