"Television Parts" is just what television needs but may not be able to use, at least not in its present form.
The half-hour pilot developed by former "Monkee" Michael Nesmith gets a trial airing tonight at 9:30 on Channel 4. Nesmith attempts to do for, or to, comedy what videos did for, or to, pop music, and while one is inclined to wish him well for departing from traditional restrictive prime-time formulas, the fact is that "Television Parts" looks and feels like a late-night show.
"We make these short films . . . and we string them together," Nesmith tells the audience, proving succinct and direct about the concept of the program. Most of the sketches are three or four minutes long, punctuated with "Five-Second Theater" or "Five-Second Concert" blackouts not unlike those done by Ernie Kovacs, but not as clever, either.
Two of the segments on the premiere are obviously just snippets of stand-up monologues fleshed out with production. Gary Shandling, a comedian with Jaggerly lips, talks about what it was like to date Miss Maryland, and then we see her waiting for him, dressed in her ceremonial sash and tiara. Whether the dramatizing makes the jokes funnier is debatable. Later, a pair of cut-ups calling themselves the Funny Boys has little luck breathing video life into a routine called "Irish as a Second Language," although they do give more spin than anyone, Irish or not, might have thought possible to the word "potatoes."
Nesmith himself appears in another sequence singing "Eldorado to the Moon" to a little girl, and Martin Mull brings a house down literally with a sketch called "Domestic Safety." It wittily observes the laws of comedy escalation, along the lines of an old Tex Avery cartoon, especially when the house in question is struck by an iceberg. Perhaps the best segment, though, is one fashioned merely to be amusing, not hilarious, and that is Jim Stafford's rendition of "Bits and Pieces," about a man learning what havoc he wreaked by getting drunk at a party the night before.
It seems that it indeed was he who chased the hostess's cat, set fire to her ferns, and put a pair of her pantyhose on his head. Considering all the solemnity that now surrounds the subject of alcohol consumption, this ditty may seem irresponsible to some. But it's nicely shot and Stafford's terminal case of cutes appears to be in remission.
NBC is showcasing "Television Parts" in what is considered a "protected" time slot -- amid the network's high-rated Thursday night lineup of shows. The thinking may be, assuming there was any thinking, that "Parts" will appeal to the same Yupscale viewers who tune in for "Hill Street Blues," which it precedes, and "Cheers," which it follows.
The audience may be adventurous enough to stick through "Television Parts" tonight but that doesn't mean the show could fly as a permanent fixture in prime time. Nesmith is a little too precious in his host role, and is he really of such luminance that the official title of the program must be "Michael Nesmith in Television Parts"? Even Tom Brokaw's name comes after the title. When you see billing like this, you can almost feel the pain in some poor benighted network executive's neck as an agent applied the dread hammerlock.
Anthology programs generally have a hard time pulling an audience back week after week. Viewers like continuing characters. Nesmith shows so little potential as a character that it is hard to imagine him continuing.