In San Francisco did Frank Oppenheimer a stately pleasure dome decree--the "Palace of Delights," celebrated in a blithe, beaming edition of "NOVA," at 8 p.m. Sunday on Channel 26. The building was formerly the Palace of Fine Arts but now, rented for $1 a year from the city, it has become the Exploratorium, a combination Disneyland, Las Vegas and miniature golf course of human discovery.
Jon Else's one-hour movie about the Exploratorium, produced by Korty Films, explores the explorers more than the exhibits. It follows the progress of several exhibits being prepared for the hall, but more attentively it follows many of the citizenry, young and old (one person even brings his dog), who visit this museum where one is encouraged to touch and feel and play with what's on display. As in past Korty productions by various directors, the quality of the candid footage is remarkably fresh and unaffected.
Through this film, one can see the genuinely enviable side of what often seems San Francisco smugness; everything is so positive and benign, yet as unimpeachable as the laughing face of an enthralled kid. Children are, naturally, the best customers for the Exploratorium. They romp through exhibits that demonstrate magnets and mirrors and optical illusions, and they groan "yechhhh" when a cow's eye is dissected in front of them.
But the adults have their ingenuous moments too, as when a bearded worker unloads a prize acquisition, a fat old console radio that, he says proudly, "has wonderful mercury vapor tubes that light up blue at the bottom." Oppenheimer himself works faithfully on a pendulum exhibit that illustrates physical resonance. Briefly recalled by narrator Paul Frees is the fact that Oppenheimer, once a member of the Communist Party, spent several years on the blacklist. Oppenheimer's illustrious brother, J. Robert, was the subject of Else's award-winning--and patently unforgettable--film "The Day After Trinity" last year.
Frees, nothing if not an industry veteran, doesn't really narrate things; he is a virtuoso whose musical instrument is his own voice. Stephen Stept, the supervising editor, did wonders with the wonders Else shot and directed. Wonders are the essence of the program, and an engaging piece of magic it is. 'Chicago Story'
Producers and networks are apparently determined to shove crime shows into the nation's kisser whether the nation wants them or not. This season, viewers have ignored and repudiated NBC's "McClain's Law" and, on ABC, "The New FBI" and the definitively abysmal "Strike Force." Still the networks cling to these tattered remnants of a bankrupt format.
The only cop shows we need now are the healthfully revisionist "Hill Street Blues" and, as a further rebuke to the old ways, the wickedly satirical "Police Squad!" But later this month ABC will offer a new hour-long cop series called "T.J. Hooker," and, tonight, NBC insists on perpetrating "Chicago Story," a combination cop-lawyer-doctor show that is really just another old sit-crime with fancy trappings and a change of location; it was filmed entirely in Chicago. This one is so DOA, it makes doornails look frisky.
The 90-minute premiere (successor to a laggardly two-hour movie seen last March) opens with two violent shootings. A cop is shot while two punks attempt a robbery; the owner of the store shoots one of the robbers as the other flees. The thief and the cop are taken to the emergency room, and then the other thief shows up and takes the doctors and nurses hostage for the remainder of this arduous and derivative escapade.
Writer Dennis Capps and director Harvey Laidman pad things out with the predictable digressions. The cop's wife utters a distraught--but somehow mildly parodistic--"You know, I always told myself, 'Be prepared, be prepared if it happens,' and then it happens, and you're never prepared." The gunman (James Russo) presses the handle of his double-barreled shotgun against his groin during much of the program while what seems to be a wayward Stepford Wife, Maud Adams as a nicey-nicey sawbones, yammers to him about life and love and his "relationship" with a girlfriend.
Anybody who doesn't think this guy's carcass will be smeared across the floor by trigger-happy cops before the last commercial isn't in tune with the prevailing beat of Hollywood's bleeding heart. We're supposed to feel a terrible tragedy has occurred; it has, but it's not the one on the screen. It's the one in the office of the network executive who said yes to this recycled and witless tripe.