"So much of it is a look," says a pretty young aspirant to stardom during the opening segment of tonight's ABC summer series "Eye on Hollywood." Actually, in Southern California, all of it is a look--it's Lookee Land--and this show looks great. In fact, spectacular. It's half an hour of low-content technoid eyewash, a cool ray of dizzy refreshment and an example of what might be called Absolute Television, for better or worse.
Essentially a glorified "P.M. Magazine," the program--whose trial run begins at 8 on Channel 7--grew out of a local show called "Eye on L.A.," but it's doubtful the producers of that program could have afforded quite so glamorous an arsenal of computerized optical tricks as this show has. It's not really a class act, but it's a seductively sensory trash act that frolics on the cutting edge of video technology, absorbing techniques and effects from the only two real sources of stylistic innovation in TV: rock videos and commercials.
(A friend says of rock videos that one out of 10 is pretty good, and that makes it worth sitting through the other nine. With TV programs, one out of 20 is pretty good and it's much harder to sit through the other 19).
The most tech-intensive segment of "Hollywood" is its last, a one-minute, 18-second picture-and-sound portrait of kooky, nutty, slightly-insufferable-unless-you're-in-the-right-mood Venice, Calif., where the dear and the antelope skalaunt. This dazzlingly edited barrage gives one a more satisfying impression of Venice, and perhaps a more acc report that Harry Reasoner did on the seaside village for "60 Minutes" last year.
Not that this is journal with all the electrons at full whirl. The sequence, "Pressed for Time," is to be a regular feature on the shoEye on Hollywood" stretches as far south as the San Diego Zoo--where penguins totter around to "Staying Alive" and a whimpriate "Some Enchanted Evening" on the show's alert soundtrack--and as far north as the Twilight Zone; the program of the same name is given a nostalgic tribute that begins with M.G. Kelly's accurate and affectiRod Serling impersonation.
It's a feat that the show can open with the hoariest, deadliest topic of our time, "making it," and bring something fresh to the subject (though not as fresh as Alan and Susan Raymond's wonderful documentary "La-La, Making it in L.A." of a few years ago). Tess Harper, of "Tender Mercies," is among the pulsating starlets seen, and she says one must put forward "your best possible face," though what's put forward more often than not is another part of the anatomy altogether.
The next segment is a feature on car craziness in Los Angeles, where, as a woman says, "you are what you drive." Again, the material is beautifully shot and assembled. The program does have two propped-up hosts, Chuck Henry and Tawny Schneider (recently married to John), and a not-so-funny resident cut-up named Johnny Mountain, but they are all inoffensive, and just sops to the tradition of having anchors. The show would be better, but less accessible to viewers, with no anchors, and with fewer words.
But even with the mild obstruction, "Eye on Hollywood" is more blissfully visual than anything currently airing in prime time. The spoken commentary may be flat and undistinguished, but the program is visually acerbic and audacious; the attitude is in the pictures and the marvelous way they are assembled (Steve Purcell is credited as "composite editor," whatever that is). So this isn't just another Hollywood TV program passing along Hollywood vacuousness. It has the wit to comment on that vacuousness, too, but rather subtly, so that dumb people won't be driven off.
Executive producer Tom Van Amburg and producers Craig Haffner and Mack Anderson have found ways to utilize some of the myriad computer manipulations of the TV image (new ones are being invented practically every day) without letting the gimmicks become the whole show; they are instruments judiciously and yet very playfully used.
By now, everyone who watches TV is accustomed to seeing the picture flip-flop and curl around; it's an overused technique. But it's given a fetching new wrinkle in "Eye on Hollywood." The cohosts will be talking in front of the Hollywood hills, and then the next picture will appear in the distance behind them, do a few cartwheels and then propel itself to the foreground, wiping them away.
"Hollywood" is the first thing even remotely super-duper this season, the only newish, innovative explosive device to be dragged out onto the Nevada Proving Grounds of summer TV. Networks want to develop new crossbred information-entertainment program forms like this because they are much cheaper to produce than scripted shows with actors and writers. Thus "Eye on Hollywood" is the ghost of television future, as spirited as the rowdiest poltergeist that ever ransacked an innocent house.