If only W.C. Fields were here to deal with Ricky Schroder the way Ricky Schroder ought to be dealt with. But NBC thinks Schroder, the costar of the tearjerking film "The Champ," could be the white Gary Coleman, a new tot ripe for bouncing on America's knee. And so it has slotted Ricky's new series, "Silver Spoons," right after Coleman's "Diff'rent Strokes," starting tonight at 8:30 on Channel 4.
If Norman Lear were dead, he'd be spinning in his grave; this is perhaps the worst show yet to come out of Embassy Television, formerly Tandem Productions, the company Lear co-founded but which is now managed by others. The humor is simpering and the heart-tugs appalling in this wretched sitcom, which concerns a rich, blithering idiot and the 12-year-old son by a broken marriage who shows up on his doorstep one long and very dark day.
"I need somebody and you need somebody, too. We could look out for each other," gurgles sticky little Ricky about midway through the premiere, which is six or seven simplistic notches below even the juvenile "Strokes." Joel Higgins, who came across as a Ken Berry with sex appeal on ABC's "Best of the West" last year, sinks with the material as Edward Stratton III, a 35-year-old multimillionaire who rides around his mansion on a large toy train and whiles the days away at a Pac-Man machine. There's something here for everyone to hate.
"I guess we could say he just never grew up," sighs Kate (Erin Gray), the rich man's secretary. Arthur, from the movie of the same name, was a lovable, irresponsible rich drunk, but there's nothing lovable about Stratton, and the father-son role-reversal relationship is just a gimmick -- another way to appeal to the kids in the audience. People used to complain about the befuddled and pea-brained fathers portrayed in sitcoms of the '50s, but next to Edward Stratton III, Chester A. Riley is a pillar of strength and Ozzie Nelson all front four of the Pittsburgh Steelers. "Matt Houston"
To paraphrase Gore Vidal: In television, having bad taste is no longer enough. If it were, ABC's "Matt Houston," a foolish new private eye series, might make it. The series, premiering tomorrow at 8 on Channel 7, was produced by Aaron Spelling and Douglas S. Cramer, the premier panderers of television, and it's so blatantly and desperately contrived that it suggests this cruelly prolific team may at last be running out of cheap tricks.
The star of the series, Lee Horsley, looks as though he wandered in from a Marlboro ad and is supposed to be the Tom Selleck of 1982. Either by uncanny accident or design, he has a crusty-wry delivery that is a dead ringer for James Garner's -- the resemblance is so unmistakable it's actually creepy -- but otherwise, he's strictly from oafsville. About all Horsley can look is askance, and he does that a lot. The shots of his reactions are so repetitious they might as well have made just one close-up and kept repeating it.
He is introduced to viewers via an early shot in which the camera hits him at approximately belt level. Its sights never really get any higher.
Matt Houston is a detective, but only as a lark; he's really an oil-rich Texas tycoon (this is the season for moron millionaires and take-charge tykes on TV) who wears $400 boots, has a sexy blond mechanic and lives in an L.A. penthouse furnished with wall-to-wall whoopee. Matt's assistant is a doll-baby called C.J. (Pamela Hensley), who narrates the show so twangily it hurts.
A safe new law of television might be, avoid any program in which a lead character is known only by his, or her, initials.
The show offers further evidence that the worst TV producers don't watch television. One of the cliche's lampooned on the wonderful "Police Squad!" satire last year was the one about the TV cop with the "street-wise" informant who sees all and knows all. On "Police Squad!" the informant was a shoeshine boy. And here comes Matt, and his street-wise informant is -- a shoeshine boy! Only it isn't played as a joke. They probably think it's a brilliant original coup.
On the first show, Matt solves a criminally perfunctory murder mystery, drives a variety of costly cars and gets seduced by beautiful Barbara Carerra as a guest suspect. She: "I'll give you anything." He: "Anything?" She: "Anything!" Witty stuff. But Matt has his philosophical moments too. "Earth," he says, "is the insane asylum of the universe. That's why UFOs don't land here."
"Matt Houston" is only for connoisseurs of the irredeemably stupid. "Gloria"
NBC has scheduled a TV version of Gloria Vanderbilt's "Little Gloria . . . Happy at Last" for later this season. But another little Gloria, Gloria Stivic, does not appear happy at all in her new CBS sitcom, "Gloria," premiering tomorrow night at 8:30 on Channel 9.
Sally Struthers has toned down the whiny and whimpery bit that used to get grating when she played Daddy's girl on "All in the Family," but while Gloria is a perfectly likable character, the writers and producers haven't come up with a situation or surroundings that suit her, or that suggest promising possibilities for the season ahead.
As the series opens, Gloria and 8-year-old son Joey (8! why it seems like only yesterday . . .) arrive somewhere in upstate New York at the home of crusty veterinarian, and Archie surrogate, Willard Adams, played warmly but somewhat tentatively by Burgess Meredith; Gloria, separated now from husband Mike, hopes to become a vet's assistant. Actually, Archie dropped her off there last spring when the spinoff was set up on "Archie Bunker's Place." He told her comfortingly, "If things don't work out here -- and they won't -- just pick up the phone . . . There's plenty of other jobs out there that you can't handle either."
Unfortunately, Archie's prognosis looks pretty close to the mark. The laughs are few in this new show, the treatment of serious problems faced by working mothers is so far trivial, and all the details seem arbitrary and forced. "Nothing's turning out the way it was supposed to," Gloria sobs, and not for nothing. "Knight Rider"
Richard Basehart, as a crime-fighting millionaire with a knack for hi-tech, departs this veil of tears at about midpoint in NBC's new "Knight Rider" series -- premiering tomorrow night at 8 on Channel 4 -- but he sticks around to handle the pulpy and purply voice-over narration. At the beginning of the show he can be heard calling it "a shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist -- Michael Knight, a young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, the powerless."
Unfortunately, this is one shadowy flight that never gets off the ground, and yet another childish comic strip to add to the season's long list of facetious adventure shows. Although violence does not appear to be a large problem on action shows this season, "Knight Rider" (hereafter to be seen Friday nights at 9) opens with a scene in which the hero is shot in the face, with blood spurting out in slow motion; this sets up one of the pivotal gimmicks. He is given a new face and a new identity and sent out into the world to corral "the kind of criminals who are above the law."
If you were going to pick yourself a new face, you probably wouldn't choose the beach-baby fashion-model kisser of David Hasselhoff, who plays Michael Knight with all the dynamic electricity of a Gordon Lightfoot ballad. But the script doesn't give him much help. For some reason, a man can't be a straight-arrow hero on TV any more. He has to be a fumble-bumble ordinary Joe tricked or coerced into heroism. Edward Mulhare ("The Ghost and Mrs. Muir"), in the mournfully thankless role of the millionaire's flunky, keeps reassuring him, but Michael Knight has all these reservations.
He is handed a super-duper crimefighting tool, a glorified Trans-Am ultracar with a prissy-voiced computer (it sounds like William Daniels) and an anti-collision device that makes accidents impossible, but instead of taking the car by the horn, he keeps expressing wimpy skepticism: "I can't believe this. A car that talks back to me! This machine's gotta go!" Finally, though, he begins to buy the bit: "I gotta admit, this car's something else!"
And the car replies, "Then . . . you really do care?" It's TV's first experiment in auto-homo-eroticism. "Knight Rider" is all revved up but has no place to go, except, maybe, headlong into a large brick wall.