Maybe social problems become official when TV movies are made about them. "Fun and Games," the ABC Monday Night Movie at 9 on Channel 7, says, in effect, yes, sexual harrassment on the job really is a problem, because here we are with a two-hour TV movie about it.
Valerie Harper, once "Rhoda," plays the "Norma Rae" figure in the film, a not particularly personable San Diego facory worker whose promotion to "quality control" is canceled because she won't accede to the sexual demands of her boss. He wishes to escalate from fanny pats and friendly squeezes to more esoteric forms of getting-to-know-you.
A sympathetic male executive at the parent company (Cliff De Young) takes an interest in the woman's case after she smacks into his Mercedes with her Volkswagen, which is awfully generous of him considering that she drives away from the accident with only a nasty shout at him for owning a "gas guzzler."
Apparently the writers, David Smilow and Elizabeth Wilson, felt they could humanize the situation and avoid the stigma of simplistics by making the heroine a bit of a Medusa. In fact, she is off-putting and uninteresting, and unless this is to be mere stick-figure socio-drama, we ought to feel dramatically involved not only with her grievance but with her character.
Harper looks terrible, as if she had dieted away all the character in her face, and never makes the woman much more than a blank mope. It's clear enough that the character has been wronged, however, and the writers do manage to illustrate some of the variations on office sexual poltics while leaving neither sex completely free of responsibility.
There are female characters, for instance, who are shown using their sexuality as bait and barter for upward mobility.
But mostly the culprits are men, including a group of executives whose lunchtime sport is placing bets on which man will cop the bravest feel off the blond waitress. She retaliates by secretly crushing the little tomatoes on their salads.
It's a jungle out there.
The film, directed by Alan Smithee, would be more effective if it were a documented case study rather than a pastiche of newspaper headlines and magazine articles. In addition, the filmmakers have "used a good deal of poetic license" in dramatizing what happens when someone files a sexual harrassment complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to an EEOC official.
Still, the film is bound to strike certain responsive chords, if not resoundingly, and it surely qualifies as the network's Good Deed of the Week. 'Cover Story'
"Cover Story," a new public TV series coproduced by Pittsburgh's WQED-TV and Newsweek, appears from first look to be another generous television serving of just what no one needs. The one-hour magazine show, premiering at 9 tonight on Channel 26, has been hyper-packaged into a state of gay stupor.
Obviously this thing was put together by those inescapable TV experts who don't really care what can be done with television; they only care about what allegedly has to be done to hold an audience. This philosophy is already bountifully represented on commercial TV; who needs public TV programs that leap into one's lap with the panting desperation of a sheep dog who's been locked in the house all day?
The program has been laid out in tidy modules as if the producers were catering to the attention spans of 3-year-olds. All manner of visual gimmicks and toys are used to keep us vaguely diverted, and coaxing, syrup-voiced announcer keeps wafting in to lure us on.
He even, at one point, says, "Still to come," as if this were ABC's "World News Tonight" and millions of advertising dollars were riding on whether we stayed tuned or not.
The premiere is called "Your Future Isn't What It Used to Be," a hodgepodge of interviews, features and even a cartoon, about the future. A short "profile" of portly futurist Herman Kahn barely lets the man utter more than one sentence at a time; instead he's captured in unintentionally funny but irrelevant activities, like scrunching his hulky carcass into a small private jet, or talking about how "growth will stop" while taking up most of the floor space in his kitchen.
There are highlights, as it were. Art Carney talks about problems the elderly will have in the future, and are having now, and then with admirable candor looks into the camer and says, "I'm Art Carney. I'm very old." Other worthwhile contributors include Pete Axthelm and George F. Will.
But you can see how many of the participants were coached on how to be on television, and you feel pity that they had to be dragged all over creation -- to spice up the backgrounds and add artificial "movement" -- when most of what they say could be said in a simple studio to a simple camera.
"Cover Story" isn't ineptly done. It's a high-tech TV pinball machine.
But woe unto the content that tries to get in the way of razzle-dazzle as haywire as this. 'Phyl & Mikhy'
Phyl, 19-year-old woman track star, she fall in luff mit Mikhy, 22-year-old Russian decathalon champion, while he is to visiting Beverly Hillski, Calif. Her father no like. Soviet diplomat no like. Much, much cuteski-wootski. Sound like one hot ha-ha situation comedy, ya?
If you think so, you have the makings of a CBS network executive and a very high tolerance for cyclamates.
"Phyl & Mikhy," getting a six-week test airing starting tonight at 8:30 on Channel 9, has all the ingredients, that's for sure. It's ingrediented to death. The premise has also been compromised by changes in that sitcom called world politics; "We've got the 11980 Olympics coming up in Moscow," says Phyl's dad. No we don't.
The pair, Murphy Cross as Phyl and Rick Lohman as Mikhy (for "Mikhail") are pleasant enough, though it's curious that he is made much more the sex object than she. Perhaps this is a sign of the times.If so, and despite seasoned sitcom vets like director Hal Cooper in the credits, it's a sign that will get very little attention indeed, and no more laughs than those provided for the soundtrack by a machine.