It is obvious that the FBI is not ready for prime-time television.
I plan to discuss the Abscam tapes today, but not the moral and ethical questions of whether they should have been played or not. I will deal with the quality of the show as it pertains to show business.
The Abscam production values were the worst I've ever seen. The tapes in many cases were out of focus, and the sound made most people think they were hearing "Shogun."
The acting, except for Rep. Myers, was way below professional standards. The FBI men who played the parts of those offering bribes were stiff and showed no emotion. The director, whoever he was, did nothing to encourage his cast to move around the room and bring some life to this listless drama.
As for the set in the hospital suite, it is evident that the FBI was scrimping on its budget, hoping that no one would notice how cheap the furniture was. Even the costumes were badly chosen; you couldn't tell the difference between the people who were pulling off the sting operation and the congressman who was being stung.
If this wasn't enough, the FBI went with a clich-ridden script that we've seen on television time and time again. The lines sounded as if they had been written by someone in the fingerprint department, and it comes as no surprise that the writer chose to take his name off the credits.
As a hard-hitting whodunit, Abscam was one of the biggest diappointments of the year, and the FBI better get its act together before the show is canceled from the air.
The first thing I believe the Bureau will have to do is get in someone who knows television. If the FBI expects to say in show biz, they should appoint Freddie Silverman of NBC as the new director of the FBI.
Then they will have to move their headquarters to Hollywood where all the studios are equipped to handle this kind of series.
They're going to have to cast their show with professional actors. You can't risk putting amatuer FBI agents in key roles when millions of dollars are at stake. You need a Peter Falk, Lloyd Nolan and Angie Dickinson to play the parts of the undercover agents. The congressmen can play themselves, since they seem to have their hearts in their work more than the FBI actors.
In order to keep up the interest of the audience, you can't stage the entire sting operation in a hotel room. You have to go outside and show shots of automoblie chases and work in a few hot love scenes. That may not have anything to do with Abscam but will keep the people from turning the dial.
Lee Remick could play the frustrated wife of one of the FBI undercover men who takes to drink because her husband keeps going out every night dressed as an Arab sheik and won't tell her what he's up to.
She could be having an affair with a labor leader who she doesn't know is also an FBI undercover agent. The possibilities are endless to make Abscam into another "Dallas."
The American people deserve more for their tax money than scratchy tape with unintelligible dialogue. You either produce a sting operation with class or you don't put it on the air. We can't have a law enforcement agency that thinks all it needs to get an Emmy award is a hand-held Sonny camera and an cassette of half-inch tape. Anyone can catch a crooked congressman taking money, but it takes talent to put it on the screen and persuade the TV audience to tune in for next week's episode.