"The Television Academy Hall of Fame" is worth a tune-in just for the chance to see Mary Tyler Moore's baby pictures. Moore is one of seven varyingly deserving honorees on tonight's third annual "Hall of Fame" show. Long on luster but short on schmaltz, the NBC special airs at 9 on Channel 4.
In addition to Moore, those inducted are Walt Disney, former CBS president Frank Stanton, Steve Allen, producer Fred Coe, Jackie Gleason and Burr Tillstrom. A better choice than Disney would have been ABC patriarch Leonard H. Goldenson, particularly since ABC has been little represented in the "Hall of Fame" and since Goldenson is now relinquishing his company to hysterically frugal new owners.
Tributes to Disney are a dime a dozen, and overpriced at that. The one that opens the "Hall of Fame" show is strictly pedestrian. But things perk up when Moore is saluted. Ed Asner, Betty White, Ted Knight and others from her old sitcom join in mocking praise. Among the clips is one of Moore as Happy Hotpoint in a prehistoric commercial.
Moore looks radiant but she is out-radiated by Diane Sawyer, who appears in a sparkly-slinky black dress to deliver a tasteful paean to Stanton. The choice of Stanton is especially apt this year since he was unjustly trashed by the HBO docudrama "Murrow" in January.
The demonstrably great David Letterman lends his bright, wise-guy charm to the Steve Allen segment, which features such vintage Allen cronies as Don Knotts, Louis Nye and Tom Poston. Coe, a highly revered producer from TV's golden age, is saluted by Patty Duke for his contributions to "Playhouse 90," "Philco Television Playhouse" and the "Mr. Peepers" sitcom.
"Mr. Peepers" is called one of the most delightful comedies "ever filmed." It wasn't filmed. It was live. You'd think a TV academy would get such things right.
The Gleason sequence is very disappointing. Milton Berle was a poor choice to host it, though it's later redeemed by John Candy, always a picker-upper. Finally, Burr Tillstrom, inspired creator of "Kukla, Fran and Ollie," is posthumously celebrated by Jim Henson, Kermit the Frog and the rest of the Muppets. Fran Allison movingly accepts the award.
Clips chosen for the Gleason, Moore and Tillstrom segments are random and unimaginative. More should have been done to get better ones. The program, produced by Gary Smith and Dwight Hemion, strives for dignity, but since several of the honored figures have earned huge spots in the national heart, more sentiment and less dignity would have been wiser.
Still, this is one awards special that never screeches hype and doesn't make one cringe. Television itself has done much to dishonor the whole idea of honoring people; the "Hall of Fame" is a bold step backward -- in this case, the right direction.