"9 to 5" proves again, as "Private Benjamin" did last year, that bad movies only get worse when turned into television shows, even if they do have sign-of-the-times themes. The ABC series version of "9 to 5," premiering tonight at 9 on Channel 7, was co-produced by Jane Fonda, the well-known crusader for chic causes whose highly publicized concern for the human race obviously doesn't extend to pollution of its airwaves.
Fonda should spend as much time encouraging sound minds as she does on sound bodies. "9 to 5" doesn't even seem possessed of commercial savvy, much less anything approaching intelligence or respect for the viewer. The film was an opportunistic exertion, true, but it lucked out with star power: Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton. Every buck that went to the box office was a vote for them.
In the sitcom version, Fonda's role is assumed by Valerie Curtin, looking more raggedly bedraggled than ever, Tomlin's by a tired Rita Moreno (who reverts to Spanish when angry, as Ricky Ricardo did 30 years ago in "I Love Lucy"), and Parton's--the hardest shoes to fill--by Parton's real-life sister, Rachel Dennison, made up to look like Parton but seriously deficient in the charisma department.
The chauvinist-pig supervisor, played in the film by Dabney Coleman, becomes a tedious priss in the hands of Jeffrey Tambor, while the sour and humorless Jean Marsh gets the worst role of the lot, the bitch secretary who thrills at every display of authority by the incompetent boss ("He's so forceful!").
Witlessly listless in the extreme--even for television, even for ABC--the program claims the National Association of Working Women as technical consultants, which is no credit to either party. At the same hour that "9 to 5" premieres, CBS will unveil its new "Cagney and Lacey" series (unavailable for preview) about lady cops--who, naturally, have to go undercover as hookers in the very first show. No doubt both of these programs will be cited as examples in trend-minded future discussions of breakthroughs for women in television entertainment.
And some day, in even more sexually enlightened times than our own (imagine!), folks will harken back nostalgically to these great leaps forward. The right to assume pivotal roles on lousy TV shows really was worth fighting for, wasn't it?