Most network television programs are just harmlessly and dismissibly bad. Now and then one comes along that makes you so angry, you want to go to Beverly Hills and let the air out of the tires on the producer's Mercedes. In the case of "Take One," an NBC "comedy development project" at 8:30 tonight on Channel 4, the producer is Paul W. Keyes; he once wrote jokes for Nixon, and none of them could ever have been as bad as this.
Good grief, even Nixon wasn't as bad as this!
"Take One" isn't just dreadful, it's sadistic. It keeps promising to expose and exercise the singular mischievous brilliance of Jonathan Winters, whose appearances on television in recent years have been limited mainly to commercials. But whenever Winters threatens to get rolling on this show, he's stopped in his tracks so the show can move along to something else.
Now what Jonathan doesn't know, host Rich Little keeps saying -- as if this were "Candid Camera" or "People Are Funny" or some other feeble peepster -- is which guest star will show up on stage and what role Winters will be asked to improvise. The audience is told over and over again how wild and wacky Winters is, but he barely gets a chance to open his mouth before an announcer screams out, "Ladies and gentlemen, Jonathan and Flip Wilson!" or "Ladies and gentlemen, Jonathan and Ernest Borgnine!" This means the sketch is over and that it's time for the heavily augmented audience reaction.
It's like sitting through a boxing match in which the bell keeps ending each round before a punch can be thrown.
Evil, blasphemous, satanic producers have decided that our attention spans are so tiny that we cannot tolerate anything that runs longer than three or four minutes -- hence the death fo sketch comedy on television. But those who remember Winters' golden era of "winging it" on the Jack Paar "Tonight Show" know that it took a while to get some of the sketches going, and that part of the pleasure was in watching Winters ramble nimbly through the miniature golf couse of his irreverent, unpredictable mind.
Paar himself shows up on tonight's program, looking encouragingly hale and fit, and he and Winters as Maude Frickert are almost into orbit when some idiot yells, "Ladies and gentlemen, Jonathan and Jack Paar!" Winter is reduced to filling the function of a two-headed calf in the local museum. The producers haven't given him a showcase; they've given him a mugging.
Paul W. Keyes is a monster, a mmmmonster! He should come east and write jokes for Alexander Haig and get out of Hollywood before he can do any more real damage.