"Hotel," the new ABC series premiering tonight at 9 on Channel 7, is "Love Boat" run aground on "Fantasy Island." Although the official title is "Arthur Hailey's Hotel," in honor of the man who wrote the book (on which a theatrical movie was also based), it's doubtful Hailey's creative contribution will amount to much more than going to the mailbox and picking up checks from the producers.
The producers are Aaron Spelling and Douglas S. Cramer, two shameless schlockmongers who do "Boat" and "Island" and probably not just laugh, but dance jigs, all the way to the bank. The program is a doggedly precise collection of stock ingredients, not so much a show as a recipe, and the special two-hour premiere will please audiences whose only demand from television is that it never surprise them, except during the news.
Bette Davis is nominally the star of the program, but has precious little screen time in the premiere, playing the matriarchal owner (a patriarchal owner in the book) of the St. Gregory Hotel, a fictitious San Francisco stopover for Hollywood's cockeyed idea of rich people, or people who are splurging on the vacation of their weary and borrowed dreams. Even the hotel is rather cockeyed, since the main entrance is ersatz Versailles while in other shots the camera pans the face of a modern skyscraper.
Just as "Love Boat" passengers board ship at that show's opening and disembark when it ends, guests of St. Gregory's open the show checking in--and rattling off their trite life stories and primitive exposition--then check out as the last commercial approaches. Continuing characters include James Brolin as the hotel manager, a man wildly concerned with the problems of staff and guests and always ready to whisk them off to a free meal to talk things out (by rights, Brolin should have gained 20 pounds by the end of the first show).
Davis has little to do (illness is severely limiting her participation), but the script's one trace of wit, or at least mischievousness, is having her first line be, "Good morning, Petah!" For years Davis imitators had her chanting "Petah, Petah, Petah," and now Davis tops the mimics with her own impersonation.
Since, competitively speaking, "Hotel" has won an ideal slot in the ABC schedule (in future weeks, right after "Dynasty") and since it aspires to be nothing more than the soundly commercial hackwork that it is, there's little point in discussing how mindlessly brainless it all is. But it might be worth noting certain peculiarities of plot and characterization, since in some distorted way they may indeed be signs of the times.
For instance, Shirley Jones checks into the hotel as Claire, a distraught wife who tells Brolin she's just learned her husband has been cheating on her for years, and so she plans to have a naughty old hotel tryst just to spite him. Brolin sends her a "good luck" note! Perhaps Hallmark could take a cue from that and introduce "Have a happy adulterous affair" or "Best wishes on your infidelity" cards. Jones is teamed for this en passant with Pernell Roberts, and the two of them cooing in a sunken tub makes for hilariously antiseptic hanky-panky.
The current TV season really could be titled "The Winds of Cute." Jones and Roberts have a cute extramarital affair. They cheat cute. Their honey-bunny dialogue (written by John Furia Jr. and Barry Oringer) is cuter than Bambi.
Claire: "I want you to make love to me."
Charles: "It's been a long time. A long time. I don't want to disappoint you."
Claire: "Oh Charles! I'm as scared as you are!"
Charles: "I'll close the drapes."
Claire: "No--we've both been in the dark long enough."
She practically says, "Be still my heart."
While these two are having their wan fling, series regular Connie Sellecca, playing a young woman who wants, and gets, a job as Brolin's assistant, secures the position for herself by pretending to work at the hotel and sending all the other job applicants home. Nothing in the script suggests this is improper or unethical behavior. Brolin rewards her resourcefulness by hiring her.
Morgan Fairchild plays a hooker whom four rich young preppy brats hire as a present for a friend. Afterward, they go to the room--the "Dallas Suite" no less--and gang-rape her. Brolin comes to the rescue of her self-respect and tells her, "I like hot dogs. I like teddy bears. I like you." And she says, "Look at me; I'm a trash can!"
Really, I may be making this sound more delectably dreadful than it is.
One dear, ingenuous, endearing performance does something to salvage the premiere: Stephanie Faracy as a simple-minded bimbo who checks into the hotel with a sugar daddy played by Jack Gilford. One day at lunch, he drops over dead. But later, "King Fernando of Portugal" (Alejandro Rey) is swept off his feet by her potatoes dijonaise. Stephanie Faracy is a diamond in a stultifying slick rough.