"The Fourth Annual TV Guide Special: 1982, 1982--the Year in Television" takes a superficial stroll through 12 months of TV and comes to the thrilling conclusion that it was just terribly, terribly interesting. And yet, interestingly enough, no mention is made of the controversial 1982 CBS News documentary "The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception" and the scurrilous TV Guide attack upon it, nor the subsequent suit filed against CBS News by Gen. William C. Westmoreland as a result of the broadcast and the article.
Mention is made on the program, at 9 tonight on Channel 4, of "Brideshead Revisited" and "A Woman Called Golda" and "Marco Polo" and the political high jinks of Edward Asner, Paul Newman and Charlton Heston (they used to call Ed Sullivan "the great stone face"; shouldn't we call Charlton Heston "the great stone head"?). This is a program with a lot of mentioning.
Producer-director Stan Harris taped and spliced it all together, with bicoastal cohosts Michael Landon in Los Angeles and Bryant Gumbel in New York reciting the commentary. Landon's hair, a silver-gray now (the color of many a B-52), sits on his head in sprightly tumult, like a momentous salad. It looks as though a team of surgeons had labored over it for hours. Gumbel and Landon are rather compatible in the sense that neither appears capable of a human emotion deeper than amusement.
There are a few treasures buried within this exhumation of the year's remains. A feature on the ABC series "Dynasty," perhaps the funniest program on TV, includes footage from an episode of the antique sitcom "Bachelor Father" (1957-62) in which a teeny-boppy Linda Evans makes a play for the older man, John Forsythe. They are cast as husband and wife now on "Dynasty." Wow.
A tribute to Dave Garroway, a founding father of television who died last year, is shamefully brief and perfunctory, but a tribute to John Belushi includes an excerpt from a "Saturday Night Live" sketch first broadcast in 1978, in which a Belushi aged by the makeup department visits a cemetery where all the other "Saturday Night" regulars are buried, and explains that he alone survived because "I'm a dancer!" It's hard to imagine something that could be sadder and funnier at the same time than this.
Other moving scenes are replayed--Henry Fonda with his Oscar, Frank Capra dedicating his American Film Institute Life Achievement Award to "Mama and Papa"--and, dependably as always, Alan King roars in to spoof network programming, though not as bitterly as it should be spoofed. But many of the program's priorities are cockeyed. Specials like "Goldie and Kids" and "Shirley MacLaine: Illusions" are highlighted as if they were great artistic and popular successes; both were agonizing flops. ABC's "The Elephant Man" is named one of the best TV movies of the year, but it was on tape, a play, and offered as an installment of "ABC Theater."
Finally, Lucille Ball gets her umpteen-hundredth award, a TV Guider in honor of her career, and the more glorious days of "I Love Lucy" are recalled with a clip from the historic "Lucy" episode on which Little Ricky was born. Lucy Ricardo says "This is it" and Ricky, Fred and Ethel fly into hilarious frenzy, rushing off to the hospital without her. This golden moment, and the numbing emptiness of the prepackaged two hours that precede it on tonight's program, are enough to make one wish this special were called "The Year in Television: 1953."