ABC will not relent in its quest to under-stoop the other guys, and the network triumphs at this mean, and nasty, feat Sunday night with a stale blast of beyond-belief trashelvision called "Celebrity Daredevils," the official ABC synopsis of which is, "Major entertainment personalities undertake an incredible array of fearless exploits."
The program, at 8 on Channel 7, ignores all the protests about dangerous stunts on television that have accumulated over the last few years and compounds the offense by having the stunts performed not by trained stunt persons but by "major entertainment personalities" who, in the first hour at least, lean more toward the minor--Adam West (who? Oh yeah, Batman), Sam Jones (who? Oh yeah, Flash Gordon), Chuck Connors, Dana Plato, and Barbi Benton, to name but a titillating few.
Also scheduled to appear are Burt Reynolds, Christopher Reeve, Kirk Douglas and John Schneider, but Channel 7 only supplied the first hour of the show. Oh, that's okay, Channel 7, we're not complaining, an hour was plenty--no, really, you don't have to send the other tape, we'll get along somehow without it . . .).
The show features not only celebrities, near-celebrities and non-celebrities, it also features an ex-celebrity--poor Marty Feldman, who has died since taping a pitiful segment of soundstage Western brawling.
William Shatner, the host, says at the outset that "the risks involved" in the stunts "could prove nightmarish." Why couldn't he just say, "We may lose a major entertainment personality or two tonight, folks, so stick around and let's hope for a maiming or two"? LeVar Burton, the brilliant acting discovery of "Roots," has come to this: he hangs from a rope ladder attached to a Piper Cub and crashes through a flaming wall of wooden crates.
"Fantastic! Terrific!" shouts Bert Convy, safely on the ground. "Let's watch the staggering performance again, from four different angles!"
Bruce Weitz (Belker of "Hill Street Blues") lets himself be set on fire; Dean Butler ("Little House on the Prairie") climbs up the outside of Caesars Palace; and Christopher Atkins ("The Blue Lagoon") goes deep-sea diving, sticks his hand in an eel's mouth, and then is quite surprised when it bites him. Pardon me while I say three "oh brothers" and a "gimme a break."
Jill St. John tells Elke Sommer she's "crazy" to go 163 mph in a jet-propelled truck, and Shatner calls Dana Plato "nuts" for sky diving and breaking an ankle in the process. The first hour ends with a demolition derby by Hollywood starlets smashing their jalopies together in the Caesars Palace parking lot. It looks like a typical Saturday afternoon at Tysons Corner.
ABC's grisly cross between "That's Incredible!" and "Battle of the Network Stars" proves again the danger of ever saying, "Television could not possibly get worse than this." True, CBS once did air an embarrassing special called "Evel Knievel's Death Defiers," with a similar ghoulish allure, but that was 12 years ago. "Celebrity Daredevils" is ABC all the way; it's why you'd never want to have an ABC executive over to your house for dinner.