ABC perfected the Comedy of Nothing - La Commedia di Niente, as the Italians might say. So when along comes an ABC comedy pilot that has at least a half-fresh focus and dares to be even marginally topical, it may look in context like a giant leap for televisionkind.
"Bizarre," at 10:30 tonight on Channel 7, is more like one small step, but fortunately it is forward rather than sideways. During preparation of the show in Los Angeles, host Richard ("Family Feud") Dawson said he hoped it would be "an American 'Monty Python,'" and this half hour of satirical or just grotesque sketches does have its endearingly loony flourishes.
It is the kind of mischievousness which, considering the dull-dumb terrain of ABC Sitcom City, should be encouraged, even if the lark itself fails to be satisfactorily realized.
One of the brainstorms that struck the show's armada of writers was to use real newsmakers or public personalities in skits that poked fun at themselves. For instance, Dawson trudged out to Venice Beach near Los Angeles to tape a segment with Howard Jarvis, the proud papa of Proposition 13. This sketch didn't make the pilot, but it will turn up if further shows are ordered by ABC.
Answered tonight, however, is the philosophical question, "What in heaven's name, or what in the world, or what on earth ever happened to George Allen, former coach of the Washington Redskins, a football team?" It's a long question as well as a philosophical one. Allen turns up playing himself in the show's funniest and most outrageous routine, a report on football training so tough that you have to have not only a strong stomach but the neck of six Schwarzeneggers to withstand it.
Other quick bits include a slightly monstrous twist on both "Dr. Strangelove" and "The Hands of Orlac"; it seems this concert pianist has had a big male brute's hand transplanted to her arm. The opening sequence stars Dawson as the parent of a little boy who is following in daddy's footsteps so swiftly that they barely have a chance to cool after daddy leaves them.
The level of wit is not exactly stratospheric, and some of the comedy seems just self-consciously coarse rather than genuinely irreverent or audacious. However, judged by the usual network prime-time scale, which is to allow generously for the grateful-it-isn't-worse factor, "Bizarre" shows definite possibilities.
One adjustment would be highly beneficial. Like most studio audiences in Hollywood, the audience at "Bizarre" was so eager to laugh that it risked communal hernia. In addition, it was probably "sweetened" electronically during post-production. The difference between how funny something is and how hysterical a Hollywood audience becomes can make good material come off iffy and bad material vastly ghastly. '13 Queens Blvd.'
Surely there was less danger of an audience, even a bionic one, going has ordered a half dozen episodes of into convulsions over "13 Queens Blvd," another ABC comedy pilot airing at 9:30 on Channel 7. The network this one, and after tonight's premiere they will be seen at 10:30 p.m. Tuesdays.
In public TV, they have underwriters. In commercial TV, they have under-writing. The fact that "13 Queens Blvd.," about residents of a garden apartment complex in suburban New York, has a particularly luminous and attractive cast of actresses makes the script's inadequacies all the more irritating,
In the premiere, a haphazardly introductory episode, Felicia Winters' husband Steven surprises reh on their 15th wedding anniversary with the news they are moving to Akron, Ohio. This gives the writers the kind of opportunity TV writers crave': to sit in Hollywood and write stupid wisecracks for New Yorkers to make about the Midwest. The dialogue is only slightly less lame than the premise.
There is nothing like a grand dame, however, and "13" has one in Eileen Brennan, the actress who plays Felicia with a rich assortment of scowls, double takes, leers, and several of whatever the physical equivalent of a roar is. Eileen Brennan is the Dorothy Parker of body language, and she is hilarious to watch - cat-like one moment and alligatorical the next.
Others in the cast include Marcia Rodd, fondly remembered for her stage and screen role in Jules Feiffer's "Little Murders" (but given little to do here other than be a pal to Brennan), and Helen Page Camp. It is hard to imagine any of them wearing out welcomes, but the show's writers are going to have to at least toss them a Band-Aid now and then for support. the first episode was written by women and directed by a woman, Kim Friedman, but this is only to be hoorah'd if the quality of life on Queens Blvd. improves outlandishly in the weeks ahead.