"Our Family Honor" on ABC, premiering as a two-hour movie at 9 tonight on Channel 7, achieves a hideous kind of perfection. It is completely uninteresting. All of its characters are calcified. It never rises above a level of zero worth.
The gimmicky, aspiringly "Godfatherly" premise contrasts two New York clans who have followed different but equally predictable paths. One is headed by Kenneth McMillan, an ultrareliable character actor, as police commissioner Patrick McKay, who has a son and daughter on the force and another son practicing law. On the other side of figurative town are the Danzigs, whose patriarch Vincent, played by a seemingly anesthetized Eli Wallach, is a crime boss who can have people killed with the lift of a finger. Wallach does not look capable of lifting much else, actually; when he announces "I'm not a senile old man," you have to take him at his word.
Pains have been taken, in the interest of avoiding wrath from pressure groups, to establish that the mobster family is not necessarily of Italian origin. However, at one point the Danzigs all dig into a big dish of Mama's calamari salad. Maybe it's that famous Hungarian calamari salad we've heard so much about.
Handsomely produced, but to no particular avail, tonight's premiere opens with punches in the face, several shotgun blasts ("Gimme a reason," says cop Frank McKay, Dirty-Harried, as he draws a bead on a No-Good Punk) and a truck crash. Yes, it's serious drama time on ABC once again. Throughout the film, regularly punctuated by somber and repetitious violence, the actors plod soap-operatically through one hoarily derivative contrivance after another, one of them a Montague & Capulet forbidden-love subplot.
Hothead Frank calls criminals "lice," barges into suspects' homes and beats them up and berates a cop who has besmirched a dead detective with, "You couldn't even shine his shoes!" McMillan suffers humiliation by dialogue (from the wilted pen of Albert Ruben). Emerging from a funeral home, he says, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death." Later he observes, "When it rains, it pours."
The program fluctuates between lukewarm ineptitude and ice-cold viciousness. Frank, played as one great tic by jitterbug Tom Mason, is the vigilante figure in the narrative, even though a cop, meant to give viewers the vicarious thrill of blasting enemies to smithereens. The only edifice he seems to enter without barging is his own home. "I don't have time to worry about breaking rules," he snarls, not long after bursting into a dope den with guns blazing.
You'd think the network landscape would be more or less unblightable by now; it isn't easy to blight a national dump. "Our Family Honor" is capable of lowering property values even in prime-time television. 'America'
Presumptuous though its title may be, "America," Paramount's new, hour-long syndicated informational show, looked cheerfully presentable yesterday when it premiered on Channel 7, where it will air at 4 p.m. daily. Zapped via satellite to more than 100 other stations, the program combines "Good Morning, America" with "Real People" in a slick package stations can use as a bridge between afternoon soap operas and early evening newscasts.
Sarah Purcell, the chief host, is a delight in the role, as she was on "Real People," although occasionally her enthusiastic bubbliness threatens to turn ugly. Whatever she does, she remains about three heads and four shoulders above her cohosts, bewildered actor Stuart Damon (in large goggle-glasses that would better suit a crewmember of the Starship Enterprise) and the perennially hapless McLean Stevenson, playing a Walter Brennan kind of role that Walter Brennan would have done better.
Yesterday's premiere was certainly an improvement over the frantic, desperate, jump-down-your-throat pilot episode of the show, on which everyone was so terrifyingly gleeful it all began to look like "Talkshow of the Living Dead." An interview with actor Michael J. Fox yesterday evolved into a surprise visit, on tape, from Fox's professed idol, James Cagney, and the offer, apparently legitimate, to play young Cagney in a forthcoming movie autobiography. Fox looked honestly wowed.
Stevenson interviewed Don Johnson, of "Miami Vice," on location and on tape. And a segment on efforts to locate missing children included an appearance from Washington by John Walsh, who named the Adam Walsh Resource Center after the son he lost to a kidnaper. Some of the recommendations on arming children against those who might do them harm evoked drastic images of a fearful society; one expert urged routinely taking one's children to the police station to be fingerprinted. Walsh suggested microchips implanted in teeth would help in the identification of decomposed bodies.
This material seemed incompatible, even given the tossed-salad nature of TV magazine shows, with a segment that preceded it, the infernally uninformative Rona Barrett, who is to be a regular Monday contributor. Asked by a member of the studio audience who the most promising young TV actors were, Barrett replied, "I'm not quite sure." Asked if Jane Wyman still receives alimony from ex-husband Ronald Reagan, Barrett said, "I haven't the slightest idea, but I doubt it."
Questioned about the dumping of Phyllis George from the "CBS Morning News," Barrett insisted she knew the whole sordid inside story but that there wasn't time to relate it. Then she implied George was a victim of sex discrimination, not seeming to realize George was preceded on the program by a woman and followed by one.
"Phyllis George is a personality, and she does have a certain kind of talent," Barrett said. The same cannot be said for her. Yet Paramount is paying Barrett a reported $10,000 per week for this program and for regular ruinous appearances on "Entertainment Tonight."
Otherwise, "America" has an agreeable, shiny veneer. Some of the graphics are bulkily cumbersome, and producers Woody Fraser and Susan Winston will probably want to pick up the pace as the show settles in. But for openers yesterday, it was palatably accomplished if also, truth be told, riotously expendable.