David Hartman for some reason wants us "to feel at ease with high tech," perhaps on the grounds that it will prevail and we may not, and so he golly-gee's himself all over the globe tonight as part of an ABC special called "David Hartman . . . The Future Is Now," at 10 on Channel 7. The baggy-faced host of "Good Morning, America" is coexecutive producer and cocreator of the "concept" for the program, made by his own production company.
Near the end of the hour, the breathlessly ubiquitous Hartman begins a sentence in Paris, continues it in London and finishes it in Northern California, all through the mid-tech wonder of tape editing. ABC calls the program "fast paced" and isn't kidding; it's only fitting that the vast, wizardly resources of the modern computerized TV production facility be called into the service of a program whose purpose is to smooch and cuddle technology.
The material Hartman covers is similar to some that Walter Cronkite perused on his CBS "Universe" series, but Hartman gets into the picture even more than Cronkite did. He huddles with sports doctors at a football game, dances with a Chippewa Indian maiden and plays Beethoven's Ninth, or a rough approximation, on a microchip-driven carillon. Hartman, to his credit, doesn't just stand around and jabber. He works hard. Just the air miles he must have logged are impressive.
A kind of "Nova" program for lazyboneses, the Hartman show, like most network programs, cowers in terror that a viewer might become bored, so everything but the digital kitchen sink is thrown in, then Windexed to a gloss and Cool-Whipped to a froth. Not just the program, but nearly every segment of it, begins with a tease about what's coming up, what's still to come, what is just around the corner, all that's yet to be. Despite the excesses of technique, much of what's seen is at least interesting, some is fascinating, all is watchable.
Not everything relates clearly to the subject of technological change. Hartman is so anxious to be upbeat that he rambles off into encomiums to rodeo clowns as part of his report on advances in sports medicine. He sees nothing desperate in the fact that rodeo stars continue to perform, for money, even when brutally injured. No, this is a sign of their manly bravado.
David Hartman not only looks like Ronald Reagan but seems to see the world in the same terms, the gospel of Deliriously Happy No Matter What.
From within the program's frazzle-dazzle fireworks display of moments and images, some actually register on the brain, and a few stand out. A rodeo clown injured on camera looks up at Hartman before being rolled off into an ambulance and says to him, "Well, at least you got some good footage, huh?" And the show does allow for the existence of computer haters, with a brief sequence on horror stories and a young man who says, "Personally, I don't like computers. They stink." It's as pithy -- and sophisticated -- a piece of social comment as anything in the script.
Good night, David. 'The History of White People'---
It had to happen, only because, sooner or later, everything has to happen: "The History of White People in America," a two-part fictitious and facetious documentary that premieres tonight at 9:30 on Cinemax, the pay-TV network, with "In Search Of," and continues next month on Cinemax with "A Closer Look." The kindest thing one can say about this endeavor is that it is hilariously funny much of the time and the unkindest thing that it is not hilariously funny all of the time.
Martin Mull, who wrote the script with Allen Rucker, is executive producer and host of the special, which has set for itself a useless and patently offensive task: explore and, if possible, plunder the image and heritage of those hard-working, hard-playing, mayonnaise-addicted Americans whose contributions to our culture include the outdoor barbecue, the chenille toilet seat cover and the tuna-noodle casserole with potato-chip topping.
Mull tracks the lumpen bourgeoisie to Hawkins Falls, in the artificial heart of Anystate USA, and examines the plastic cover that protects the leatherette cover they use to protect their TV Guide. Outside, Hal and Joyce Harrison are preparing the daily barbecue, Hal scraping pesky sesame seeds off the buns and Joyce trying to account for the sudden and dramatic scarcity of mayonnaise on the premises.
In the midst of this feverish and pointless activity, Hal puts his arm around the wife and son Tommy and says, "Well, this is about as good as it gets, isn't it?"
When in Part Two the camera travels to a celebration of "White Pride Day," a viewer may think this is too similar to the phrase "White Power" and wonder if the joke has been stretched too far. But most of it works splendidly as omnidirectional satire, only once or twice nasty (as when father Hal uses a certain four-letter word at the dinner table that he in fact would not use except when joking with The Guys), most always cherishably original in outlook. Father Time, or is it Mother Time, has mellowed the smugness with which Mull approaches such topics. He's perfect.
Or nearly perfect, since the closest thing to perfection on the premises is probably Fred Willard's portrayal of Hal as the consummate jerk, whose finest moment occurs in Part Two when as part of a daring cultural exchange program Hal actually lets a rabbi into the house ("So, Sid, let me get this straight: They're not really 'princesses' like the ones in England or Monaco . . ."). Mary Kay Place is pricelessly good as wife Joyce. A smattering of interpolated guest stars like Steve Martin is more priceable and less effective.
Harry Shearer, who has a cameo as the rabbi, directed with just the right wry detachment. Here and there (as in getting into and out of the dream sequences at the Institute), he's a trifle pokey. The worst thing about Part One is that it's only 23 minutes long. The second worst thing is that the program is playing on Cinemax, which, while available on some area cable systems, has not nearly the audience of its big sister, Home Box Office, where by rights a show this funny ought to be playing.
The "White People" program, meanwhile, will also appear in book form, to be published by Putnam in October. Among the comedy points being made is that while the heritage of many ethnic groups has been celebrated in docudrama and mini-series, white people languish guiltily in colorless anonymity. In Part One, a teacher asks students in Tommy Harrison's class to discuss their origins. A black youngster named Jamaal describes the eventful history of his family tree back to Africa, and a Jewish boy named Yehudi speaks of his ancestors dramatically fleeing Eastern Europe and entering the United States through Ellis Island.
Then it's Tommy's turn.
"Well," he says. "We used to live on Maple Street, then we moved on over to Elm Street, where I finally got my own room." That's the essence of the joke, and before the show is over, every possible drop of Kool Aid is wrung from it. There's a great deal of rewarding irreverence in the wringing.