A cordial but firm "No, thank you" to "People of the Year," another of TV's endless experiments in haywire eugenics. The CBS special, at 10 tonight on Channel 9, attempts to mingle little profiles of celebrities in sports, the arts and politics with variety show cliche's like a comedian-host, a gigglesome chorus, a fancy Hollywood set and oodles and oodles of fake applause. The concept stinks and so does the execution.
This is the third attempt to translate People magazine -- which is like print television anyway -- into television, which already has enough frivolous blather of its own. The hour, a hodgepodge of elements and modules about each of the "25 most intriguing people" of 1981 as chosen by People editors, is so scatter-shot and fractured that watching it is like being pelted with Ping-Pong balls.
It proves again that a hundred bite-sized morsels do not necessarily add up to a meal.
Perhaps the worst possible host, Bob Newhart, was chosen to emcee -- and in Awards-Show black tie yet. Newhart's flat readings of a dull script make one yearn for the histrionic days of Westbrook van Voorhis.
There are highlights, nonetheless. Fernando Valenzuela is seen taping a public service ad and saying, in English, "Be smart. Stay in school." Tom Selleck, the star of "Magnum P.I.," takes the rare step of putting show biz in its proper perspective when he notes in an interview, "We're not exactly curing cancer in this business." G. Gordon Liddy, a one-man "You asked for it" -- sings "If I Loved You" to his wife, whilst Rodgers and Hammerstein tumble in their graves.
Is G. Gordon opting for a series, or what? Wouldn't "If I Off'd You" have been more appropriate? He is almost upstaged in terms of playful infamy by Atlanta's tireless prattler Ted Turner, who claims he wants to use TV "to improve the quality of life" (viewers of his Superstation should get a har-har out of that one) and gets lost in droopy-eyed reverie over Walt Disney's "Pinocchio" ("I loved that movie"), singing "When You Wish Upon A Star" along with a music box on his desk.
Now all this may sound like fun, but these moments are fleeting; slavish inanity is the rule. Into the mix is added a particularly jarring sequence: Vice President George Bush and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy paying tribute to Polish labor leader Lech Walesa. The program's editing is disruptive and the script lacks even the magazine's mild brand of sass.
"People of the Year" is another product of Pierre Cossette Productions, which came up with that inept salute to Hollywood on CBS a few years ago and which regularly disgorges "Sha Na Na," the teen-age "Hee Haw." The director, Walter C. Miller, won't want this one at the tippy-tippy top of his resume.