Compatible essays in empty enervation, "The Start of Something Big" and "Exciting People, Exotic Places" air back-to-back, belly-to-belly tonight on Channel 5 starting at 8. Offshoots of the rather engagingly egregious "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," the programs try to refine the television art of manipulating facts so as to make them seem phonier than fiction. And infinitely duller.
Both shows, from the same production company, are so drowsy and trance-inducing in execution that they should probably not be available without a prescription. The first, "Something Big," is a tape pastiche of featurettes about how now-famous people got their breaks and how such things as the bikini, ice cream and potato chips were invented. This is back-of-the-book stuff even in The Farmer's Almanac.
Such chronically underexposed performers as Joan Collins, Julio Iglesias, Raquel Welch and Bob Hope are mini-profiled in the superficial biography bits. An announcer, whose voice is as lulling and dehumanized as the computer-programmed device that calls planes at Dulles Airport, informs us that it took "a lifetime of sacrifice and determination" to bring Collins to her pathetic pinnacle -- Porcelana princess on a TV soap opera. Surely the Nobel Prize is next.
Julio Iglesias is surgically analyzed by no less than his public relations team. Poor Steve Allen, who really must learn to say "no" more often, hosts the ice cream and bikini segments. And the program ends with the airport announcer returning to say, "Remember, it's never too late to turn your dreams or ideas into reality!" Yes, you too could become a television producer and peddle bankrupt formats like this to gullible syndicators!
"Exciting, Exotic" is the kind of thing Jack Paar did on specials two decades ago, except he took a witty curiosity along on his various video safaris and expeditions. If you can't have wit, Brooke Shields is a pleasing substitute, and she proves herself again among the most photographable of mortals. But watching her sip champagne during a "British breakfast" in Kenya and feeding carrots to a giraffe with her mouth ranks fairly low on the list of sights we can't live without.
A quickie shot of Rio de Janeiro ("exotic! erotic!" the announcer says) is the same used to illustrated the bikini story in "Big." And a Saudi Arabian profiled in the first show, and identified as the world's richest man, turns up in the second to give Brookie an airplane ride across Kenya ("an exotic land!"). All this follows a trip by Persis Khambatta and Pam Dawber to "Exotic India," which concludes with Persis deciding, "I like who I am."
Of course -- a new lease on life for the travelogue. Just prop up silly TV and movie stars in front of the Seven Wonders of the World and let them search for their innermost selves. On "Something Big," Robin Leach, host of "Lifestyles," is credited as one of four writers, and on "Exotic," he is the executive producer. It appears Leach is trying to stretch a half-bad semi-idea into a real television plague of a career. I wonder how much money it would take to bribe him into an early retirement? An early retirement is just what viewers of these two specials are likely to get, drifting off to slumber even before Maury Povich moseys along with "The Ten O'Clock News."