Talk about raw realism. When Louis Gossett Jr., as chief of staff Dr. MacArthur St. Clair, doesn't like what he hears in his hospital, he snaps, "Sheep dip! That's sheep dip!"
So is "The Lazarus Syndrome," a new ABC drama series being "previewed" with a 90-minute episode, the pilot, tonight at 9:30 on Channel 7. It may be television's first investigative medical series, sort of a "Lou Grant" with a stethoscope, but the premise seems awfully contrived. It calls for Gossett to team up with Ronald Hunter, as reporter Joe Hamill (Pete's brother?) so they can sleuth out injustices within the wilds of medicine.
In the first show, the hanky-panky centers around E. G. Marshall, giving his usual stony, stoic all, as a speed-freak surgeon who is given to operating on them what's don't need it and making such pronouncements as "medicine . . . is a business, cash and carry, pay on delivery," which is sure no sheep dip.
During the final confrontation, when E. G. breaks down crying, the character achieves some sort of dimension -- ah yes, another victim of The System. And Gossett himself, despite the limitations of the character as written by William Blinn, is satisfyingly both stalwart and vulnerable.
But Hunter, who must have won ABC's Gabe Kaplan lookalike contest, makes a dull smirky foil, and the whole nature of the alliance rings false-- just another formula buddy- buddy team, along the lines of a tongue-depressing Starsky and an ink-stained Hutch. One does not relish the prospect of this odd couple having their little spats and reaching accords week after week after week.
Refreshingly and encouragingly, Gossett is allowed to have a wife, though the marriage is depicted as shaky. The reporter character is married too, but is anxious to dump his wife for a new girlfriend, and when this is accomplished, the script depicts it as his moral victory over that old oppressive nuisance called fidelity. Television programs that impart values like that give me the creeps.
For the record, the "Lazarus Syndrome," as defined by Gossett during the show, occurs in "patients who think doctors are all godlike miracle workers in all things." The program will depend for survival on the Lazybones Syndrome, which can be defined as the inability of viewers to change channels after sitting through ABC's all-hit Tuesday night comedy line-up.
They can hardly be blamed if they do not feel like hanging around in great numbers to watch the sheep dip hit the fan.
NBC News sees the Vietnam war as something that happened to the United States, not to Vietnam, and so "No More Vietnams, But . . . ," the "NBC White Paper on Oil and American Power" that airs tonight at 9 on Channel 4, deals with the precarious nature of peace in the Mideast purely in terms of how it may inconvenience Americans.
The program is less a report than a performance of dueling lectures by host Edwin Newman and reporter Garrick Utley. One minute Newman scolds us, "We must understand the Saudis and their country, and quickly," and the next, Utley advises that the Saudis are "a different kind of people we must try to understand."
Yemen can thus be defined by Utley just with the phrase "a place few Americans have ever visited." The sternly taught lessons of these entire and largely arduous two hours are: We are dependent on Mideast oil, we are "vulnerable" because of that dependence, imagine us being vulnerable, and just what are we going to do about it?
Perhaps this form of tunnel-vision television is justifiable considering the economic stakes involved, but to raise the worry of warfare and bloodshed in the Mideast only because it might mean more Americans waiting in lines at their gas stations is a peculiar stance for a journalistic endeavor. Throughout the hour the United States is rarely referred to by name; instead it is almost always "we" and "us," and there are times one doesn't want to be included in this particular selfish aggregate, nor to be told by Edwin Newman just exactly what "we" must do, and quickly.
The highlights of the hour come early and include a quick cut from President Carter saying, on Dec. 31, 1977, that Iran is "an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world," to a big blast from a cannon as revolution erupted there only weeks later. Among the guest experts participating on tape or film are Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, former ambassador to Iran William Sullivan, and NBC's tight-lipped old hired hand, Henry Kissinger.
One-time CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt talks in a disturbingly matter-of-fact way about how the CIA engineered the coup that put the Shah of Iran in power. "You had $1 million in cash to run the coup, right?" he is asked, and he replies in the affirmative, adding that the actual out-of-pocket cost was a mere $60,000.
The program is laced with as much visual decoration as possible to soft-pedal the seminar side of it; thus when an Oman official merely mentions the Vietnam war, there is a quick burst of combat footage. All very slick, but it contributes nothing to understanding and eventually becomes a monotony of its own.
Amusingly enough, this program about oil and its sources is sponsored and politely interrupted by "Weyerhaeuser, The Tree-Growing Company," whose soft-sell commercials, narrated by Cliff Robertson, keep telling us how "renewable" forests are and how wood may be fuel by the year 2000. They seem to be saying, "The oil may be gone tomorrow, but look at all these lovely trees you'll have." Joyce Kilmer would be thrilled.