In Hollywood, where ego stroking is a martial art, record companies pay for huge billboards along the Sunset Strip not so much to advertise a latest album as to humor and flatter the performer who made it.
Now it appears that hours of primetime network television are being doled out in the same way, as sops and bonbons to hams -- a new an irresponsible variation on the vanity press. Tonight Cheryl Ladd is the recipient of one such lavish gift: "The Cheryl Ladd Special" at 10 on Channel 7.
This one should have have made it out of Cheryl Ladds's agent's brain.
Ladd's special is proceded, at 9 on Channel 7, by the pathologically mediocre Barry Manilow and more of his acrobatic genuflections at the alter of himself. Both specials are on ABC and they look it; they have the warmth, class and stype of dampest Naugahyde.
At least Ladd is attractive to the eye. Her special is called "Souvenirs" and it begins with a sung disclaimer that "you can't stand up on your own," for which Ladd is appropriately backed by a troop of those tireless and tiresome Hollywood chorus boys one always sees in specials like this.
Other guests include Jeff Conaway of ABC's "Taxi" and Joyce De Witt of ABC's "Three's Company"; ABC would rather promote at you than divert you. The souvenirs tend to be mementos of fame and glamor and other L.A. cliches that are forever being foisted off on the country as civilized values.
Most of this is just tedious, albeit the Three Mile Island of tedium. Then along comes the Charlies Daniels Band with a neo-jingoist ditty about hating the Russians, or something, and the program gets a little frightening. Ah yes, patriotic as well as spiritual leadership from Hollywood.
Just wait. Charlie and the Boys and maybe luscious Cheryl too, will probably be asked to perform at Ronnie Regan's inaugural.
"Souvenirs" comes to us through the self-beneficence of Cheryl Ladd Productions, Inc. Vanity has no shame. Barry Manilow has no shame, either, of course, but his fans seem to relish his lack of shame the way they used to relish Rod McKuen's.
Manilow's program, "One Voice," has been arranged in "groups of emotion," Manilow says, but all the songs sound the same; they're all Barry Monotone specialties. One could dismiss his work as harmless dreck except that exposure to it may discourage Manilow's fans from ever developing an interest in music.
"I don't like doing obviously corny stuff," Manilow says at one point -- the most baldfaced hoax since Rosie Ruiz. Manilow's constituency -- mostly, it appears, the same small gaggle of squirming little girls who selected all the prime-time programs for the ABC television network -- gives signs of loving it all, even when Manilow tastelessly asks the musical question, "Who's been sleeping in my bed, getting what I get?"
Manilow offers songs for people who don't like to think. Television offers shows for people who don't like to think. People who don't like to think get all the breaks. Perhaps Barry puts his finger on it when he sings, "We're like ships that pass in the night, and we smile and say it's all right, like those ships that pass in the night, yes, those ships that pass, that pass in the --"
Oh, forget it.