When Ed Asner beckons out of the TV screen, 'Hey, I want to talk to you for a minute . . . What you're going to see is going to change the way families operate on a day-to-day basis . . . and the way businesses are run," the tendency is to trust him. This must be news, coming from the fast-breaking teddy bear himself.
And when he and Washington cohost Renee Pouissant intimate, as they do in tonight's "What Does Your Mom Do?" (Channel 7 at 10 p.m.) that they're going to explore who does the cooking and cleaning, who takes the kids to Little League and the dentist, who stays home when they're sick, and how do women juggle everything without going a little crazy, you're convinced you're in for an hour of relative programming.
But unless you're unaware of the fact: a) that more mothers than ever before work outside the home; b) that they're taking on jobs such as police officer and electrician, and c) that they sometimes work for personal fulfillment, but more often for the money, you aren't going to learn much.
And if you're one of that vanishing -- perhaps valiant -- breed of women at home with your children, you could be downright angry with the condescending tone afforded you and your ilk. (Announces D.C. police officer Patricia Dewalt, for example, "I can be just as good a mamma in 10 seconds as some other mammas out on the street who spend all the time with their children.")
Dewalt, whose job is certainly the most unusual (and one can't help but wonder at times why she wants it), is one of seven women featured on the program. We're promised somewhere that we're going to see what their lives are like. We mostly se their work lives, sans anything as awkward as a now-show babysitter or a child with a 104-degree temperature and Mother facing a 10 a.m. deadline. The subjects' children are seen but not heard -- in favor of nonsequitur comments from anonymous others -- and in the case of a beautiful Minneapolis stewardess-turned-electrician, not even seen.
The most accessible segment, both in treatment and in subject, is on a woman named Pat Southwell of St. Paul, Minn., who found herself at age 40 with no job, no skills, divorced after 14 years of marriage, and with five mouths to feed. Unable to get a job teaching (her before-marriage occupation), she attended vocational school and lived on child-support payments and welfare. She describes her old stereotype of the divorcee -- frizzy blond and gum-chewing -- and welfare mother -- overweight with shoeless kids -- and is embarrassed. She doesn't fit. And when the camera focuses at last on such things as predawn loading of the car with children going somewhere and the grabbing of bologna in the supermarket, you know something of her life.
Although Asner and Pouissant mention perfunctorily such things as the need for better day care, flexible working hours and sympathetic employers, the vignettes by five stations in the new "Eighth Decade Consortium" barely back up the reasons.
If you're what is called a working mother, and you can't decide whether to pack the kids' lunches, throw in another load of wash, wipe the Juicy Juice off the floor, watch "What Does Your Mom Do?" to empathize with others like you out there -- or go to bed at 10, take the latter.