If Arch Campbell ever stops laughing at himself, we may get the opportunity to find out if he is funny. Campbell has been playing the jerk so long on Channel 4's loutish local newscasts (the 11 o'clock show looks, and plays, like a poker game in a Lowenbrau commercial) that he may have irretrievably sublimated his reputedly genial real self. Unfortunately, his new weekly show, "Arch Campbell Airwaves," premiering after "Saturday Night Live" at 1 a.m. on Channel 4, showcases nothing but inadequacies right and left.
Essentially a perk wrung from management during recent contract renewal negotiations, Arch's program seems a shockingly unprofessional effort for a TV station that is owned and operated by a network (or sort of: NBC). It's a series of guffaws from Arch interrupted for wayward diversions -- leftovers and repeats from his occasionally amusing spots done for the newscasts. Tonight he trots out some foreign commercials Johnny Carson first aired about five years ago and reels off an illustrated list of dreadful movies, any of which would have a hard time being as dreadful as Arch's show.
In the second half, Campbell interviews Gary Arnold, former movie critic for The Washington Post. But first Arnold is forced to sit there silently (and inexplicably) on the set while Campbell reads off supposedly funny show biz news items and then tosses the pages onto the floor. Arnold then talks about his reasons for stepping down from the daily reviewing beat (a career change that became, he says, "a rather long goodbye") and his long-term plans.
Earlier there is an alleged interview with the mascot of Bob's Big Boy restaurants, with Arch reading from notes on his lap and unable to repress the gasping laughs. This segment all too willingly plays along with a current advertising campaign. Campbell has the potential to be a likably irreverent pop-culture commentator and annotator, but more thought will have to go into the vehicle and its execution for "Airwaves" to be anything other than an arch embarrassment.