Robert Stack could be speaking for producer Aaron Spelling when he sighs, early in the 90-minute premiere of ABC's "Strike Force" tonight, "I haven't had an original thought in 20 years." Why should Aaron Spelling have an original thought when he can use old and derivative ones as first-class tickets to bonanzaville?
"Strike Force," at 9:30 on Channel 7 (subsequent one-hour episodes will air Fridays at 10) reeks of sorry commercial smarts: a violent, moderately kinky crime show with a seasoned old gumshoe at the helm. Stack has aged from a crisp, almost robotic Elliott Ness into crumpled hero Frank Murphy of "Strike Force," a cynical sourpuss who heads up an elite cadre of crime stoppers and who lives alone with his dog Sam and a pair of pink flamingos on the front lawn.
He is a living, breathing groan.
The first episode is filled with off-putting, unsavory touches. It opens with a big blast-out at a roadside diner; the shooting is done in slow motion because, according to the "$6 Million Man" precedent, you can do anything to anybody on television as long as you do it in slow motion. This shoot-out has nothing to do with the main plot, a search for a psychotic killer.
"So what's the MO?" asks the token female member of the strike force. The MO is that the killer kills only on Tuesday and specializes in beheadings. Cute, huh? As they search not only for the killer but for potential victims, the strike-forcers run into such L.A. archetypes as a swish homosexual ("I lucked out," he says when he opens the door and finds a handsome cop standing there) and a woman all done up in leather straps ("Who is doing what to whom here?" asks the strike-forcer).
Naturally, Stack must deal with the standard crime-show bureaucratic nemesis, in this case a deputy police commissioner whimsically named Herb Klein and played with the proper show of furtive embarrassment by Herb Edelman. Dorian Harewood, a lean and bright young actor, is clearly overqualified for -- and demeaned by -- the role of the force's token black. The 90-minute pilot was written by Lane Slate ("They Only Shoot Their Masters") and directed by Richard Lang. The heck with them.
In Paddy Chayefsky's TV satire "Network," recently rerun by CBS, Faye Dunaway as a mad programmer recites a list of show-title parodies concocted by Chayefsky. One of them was "Strike Force." This only goes to prove that it is almost impossible to be farfetched when it comes to satirizing the depths to which television will sink, especially if Aaron Spelling wants to add another wing to his beach house.