Prime-time network television is like a balloon factory; it is filled with lighter-than-air vehicles. One of them, however, proves a slightly loopy but very pleasant surprise tonight: the premiere of the new CBS series "Tucker's Witch," at 10 on Channel 9.
Expectations for this particular little toot were not all that high. A pilot film, produced under the title "The Good Witch of Laurel Canyon" made such a crash landing last spring that the show had to be entirely remodeled, renamed and recast. The recasting at least was felicitous, Tim Matheson and Catherine Hicks make a very ingratiating pair as Rick and Amanda Tucker, a husband-and-wife detective team who have one major advantage over all other husband-and-wife detective teams -- the little woman has a number of extrasensory powers.
She can stop a clock in its tick, clunk a neighborhood peeper in the noggin with his own telescope and telepathically seduce her husband as he tries to leave the house on assignment. And when her powers fail her, she shows herself capable of delivering a solid punch in the jaw, as she does at the end of the show when trapped in an empty highrise with the dread elevator strangler.
This guilty party is played by, of all people, Ted Danson, normally the chipper bartender on NBC's new "Cheers"; it's giving nothing away to reveal this, since the killer's identity is tipped early in the show. The regular weekly supporting cast, meanwhile, includes the invaluable and really incomparable Barbara Barrie as Amanda's mother. It seems Amanda inherited her psychic gifts from her maternal granny, but mom was somehow skipped over. Hicks and Barrie have a very sweet scene together on tonight's show discussing this and other things. It's the kind of nuance most such programs would not have time for.
Hicks, who played Marilyn Monroe in the ABC movie about the actress, and Matheson, best known for his role in "Animal House," are a breezily attractive couple, although it would be nice if they had learned the difference between the words "cavalry" and "Calvary." Nevertheless, they bring to mind fondly remembered detective teams of the past, like Nick and Nora Charles and Mr. and Mrs. North, and they get crucial assistance in their sleuthing and bewitching from Dickens, a handsome Siamese with maddeningly gorgeous blue eyes.
"Tucker's Witch" is certainly a frivolity, but by television standards a very classy one, the kind that leaves a leaden prank like ABC's "Hart to Hart" -- a completely inferior humorous detective series -- lying helpless in the dust.