Earl Eischied could turn out to be Warren Burger's favorite cop. Eischied loathes the press, resents any legal restraints on police power and, as a civil libertarian, falls somewhere to the right of Captain Bligh. And yet, for all his flaws, there's something about this guy. Something that says "TV Authority Figure."
"Eischied," NBC'S new crime series, premiering at 9 tonight on Channel 4, has weight, clout and depth, all qualities that marked previous work in this genre by executive producer David Gerber "(Police Story") and producer Matthew Rapf ("Kojak"). "Eischied" interpolates authentic Manhattan locations with its stock L.A. footage and communicates the aura of urban threat one gets from only the best TV cop operas.
But the most imposing thing about the show is Joe Don ("Walking Tall") Baker in the title role, a chief of detectives who worked his way up through the ranks and hasn't forgotton what the lowest rungs of the ladder are like. Baker stalks around the city with nothing but supreme command; his face has the toughness and pliability of a punched pumpkin.
And the producers have supplied him with such signs of endearing vulnerability as a beautiful rich lady-love and a cute little cat, about both of whom he is nuts. The cat, played by the inimitable Waldo Kitty, is named P.C. in honor of the Police Commissioner, played in the premiere by no less a man-mountain than Raymond Burr. Along with the continuing character of deputy commissioner James Kimbrough (Alan Fudge), Burr represents one of Eischied's perpetual nemeses: the politically motivated bureaucracy he must answer to.
The premiere episode was obviously based on the Son of Sam case, and it takes an unwieldy three hours to unfold; after tonight's two-hour opener, the episode concludes next Friday at the show's regular time, 10 p.m. The amount of padding, particularly the amount of excess bickering between Eischied and the world at large, gets to be a burden, but writer Mark Rodgers and director Robert Kelljan know how to sustain interest nevertheless.
Unfortunately Rodgers adds nothing to the literature of psychosis with the mass murdered, Albert Colvin, he cloned for this program. (The killer is played by James Stephens, last year the foolish Hart on "Paper Chase"y. At least in the first two hours, the only insight offered into the mad man'smind is a snap Freudian analysis delivered by a token shrink. It seems the kid suffers from an underdose of mother love, so he kills pretty girls -- exactly the problem of Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho."
In the course of getting the appropriate goods, Eischied taps a newspaper reporter's phone and breaks into the reporter's girlfriend's mailbox. Earlier we learn he is guilty of overlooking the "use of unauthorized ammunition" on a robbery case, and when an officer promises to hide details of another case from the press, Eischied bestows his highest honor: "You done good."
Almost all TV cop heroes have been depicted as mavericks who occasionally break rules. There is a fine line between the no-nonsense realist who gets things done, however, and the reactionary hero calculated to exploit the las-and-order fears of a national audience -- an official vigilante. More than once, Eischied falls over this line; the question is whether the quality of the program compensates for that, or in fact aggravates it by making the show that much more volatile a vehicle.
To Kelljan's credit, he manages to make the murders horrible without being gory. One, committed in a subway station, is artfully and chillingly obscured by a passing train, its roar drowning out the victim's scream.
Even better are the scenes of office interplay between Eischied and his trusty aides, one of them played by Eddie Egan, the former cop whose exploits inspired "The French Connection," and another by the profoundly personable Vincent Bufano, wisely plucked from the ruins of last year's shortlived CBS comedy, "Flatbush."
If there must be cop shows on television, and there may as well be, they should all be as conscientiously produced as "Eischied," but one could hope for a script that didn't seem quite so reminiscent of a Frank Rizzo sermonette. NBC has also made a serious error in scheduling "eischied" on low-viewing Friday nights.
"Eischied" deserves a crack at a bigger audience. At times it also deserves a rap on the knuckles.
hThe moral of "Diary of a Teenage Hitchhiker" -- not a porno reel but the ABC Friday Night Movie at 9 on Channel 7 -- is that parents had better buy their 17-year-old daughters their own cars if they don't want them getting raped as retaliation. Two nights after NBC'S "Mrs. R's Daughter" showed the brutality of rape for what it is, here's ABC using it for cheap titillation in a movie with fewer than no redeeming values.
Our wan and chubby heroine, played by Charlene Tilton of "dallas," has her parents pretty well terrorized, even for a TV brat, but they won't buy her a car. She thumbs a number of rides, narrowly escaping the hideous fates that befall other fetchingly semi-clad girls at fairly regular intervals, and then, just when she's met a milkshake Mr. Right, the bus is late or something and she thumbs that one ride too many.
Fortunately, she and her alleged virginity survive. The latter is one of the topics preoccupying her parents, who dare to ask at one point whether she has slept with Prince Charming. In classic L.A. mespeak she lectures them, "You are prying into the most intimate part of my life," and adds, "I love you, but I don't owe you all of me!"
The parents are played as cowering simpletons by the ideally cast Katherine Helmond and Dick Van Patten; few could cower with such simpletonian diffidence.
Anyone familiar with the last 10 years of television would have no trouble "identifying the network for which this movie was made; it could only be ABC, and ABC at its worst. "Hitchhiker" was produced by "The Shpetner Co.," and shpetner sounds like just what you feel like doing after sitting through it.