"LIVE . . . and in Person" may not be just what television needs, but it's just what I need, and I'm tired of worrying about what television needs anyway. What about my needs? Aren't I entitled to some needs? Aren't I entitled to be able to turn on my television set and see funny orangutans who do the Bronx cheer, and Neil Diamond, too, if I'm so inclined (though I never have been)?
NBC is televising "Live . . . and in Person," a maniacally updated "Ed Sullivan Show," live from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles three nights this week, including tonight at 10 on Channel 4. Of course only a network run by strangely self-destructive heathen would put on a show that kids would love at 10 o'clock.
It's supposed to be the pilot for a prime-time variety show, a format with which just about every entertainer but G. Gordon Liddy has failed in the past decade or so, but nevertheless, the time slot was clumsily chosen, especially since the first of the three shows, Tuesday night, featured not only the Berosini Orangutans, who were merely sensational (although trainers of such animals should take care to give their creatures friendly hugs on camera, and Berosini didn't), but also Menudo, the utterly ingratiating Latino Beatles; Debbie Allen and Gene Anthony Ray of "Fame," the show NBC coldly canceled last spring; and Siegfried and Roy, those twin Liberaces of tiger taming who appeared in a baleful bayful of stage fog and shot what looked like laser waffle irons at each other.
Neil Diamond sang--er, sort of--Joan Rivers badgered the audience with one-liners, Alan King was very funny on the inexhaustible subject of airline misbehavior, Dolly Parton joined Kenny Rogers to open the show with their new double single, and Peter Allen joined the Rockettes rousingly to close it. Sullivan would mix opera stars and mouse puppets and it worked; "Live . . . and in Person" made the mix work, too, with a zip and flash that entertained you no matter how fervently you may have wanted not to be entertained. Last night's bill of fare was to offer such strange stagefellows as Milton Berle and Culture Club ("Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?").
What Sullivan did not do was hustle every act off after only one song or one tiny routine; "Live" tried too hard to keep moving, and director Marty Pasetta exercised his usual nervous passion for chasing a shot off the screen before you could tell what it was a shot of, or indulged in wide views of the auditorium, which are meaningless on anything but wall-size television sets. But it was live, most of it, and that still counts for plenty.
Sandy Gallin, the producer, agent and packager who put the show together, wasn't very shrewd to hire himself as host, but then Sullivan was no dazzler either, and Gallin proved he could point and shout "Let's hear it!" adequately. It would be wonderful to have a nonviolent, live, all-star, colossally stupendous show like this back on Sunday nights where it belongs, but networks have grown too mean and misanthropic to make such a concession to common decency. All they care about is their needs.